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- Poetry: Worthwhile poetry is never manufactured in minutes. Outstanding poetry takes years of experience and study, which then, sometimes(!) culminates in a work of art. It is true that many if not most of the great poems written by masters of poetry would have come from a single idea or even one word. Yes, the first line would have been written down quickly but then worked on as a first draft. However, later the original would be revised several times over a period of days – and sometimes years. Dylan Thomas wished that he had had the time to go back over his poetry to revise and improve it further but he was too busy writing newer and what would turn out to be even better creations! Poetry is like any other artform, totally artificial – perhaps a better word would be synthetic. There is nothing wrong with that. Poetry does not grow naturally on trees like autumn leaves (which can evoke a very poetic vision) and without the human race on this planet would never evolve from the handful of letters and thousands of words or symbols that make up each language into a poem. It’s like going into a field day after day with a skip full of bricks and tipping them onto the grass – in a million years they will not form a house. A dictionary will never become a poem without a wordsmith concentrating with single-minded purpose on shepherding these lonely words into a concise image or flock of images. Poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture, music and the playwright’s stage are all synthetic; architecture, the theatre and orchestral works being not only fabrications but are (as someone has observed) art by committee – the architect, scriptwriter and composer depending on others to transform the original idea into a finished work. Poetry (and to a lesser extent, sculpture and painting) on the other hand is the product of one person’s imagination that has been fired up by an experience or the actions of another person. Inspiration, there is no other word for it, turns the act of creating a poem into a war, a battle with words that are sometimes the poet’s friend yet very often turn against the writer and become the enemy resulting in deep disappointment. To turn these twenty-six little soldiers of lead (harking back to the days of the hand compositor) into words that are then arranged like an army bent on only one mission is not easy. Expressing a human emotion or feeling into something that can be read by another person in a concise yet poetic form is a challenge. The difference between poetry and prose is that even poetic novels are too long to have sudden impact, whereas the poem, especially the sonnet and other short verse forms, can hit the reader’s mind like an axe. Yet some poets are so subtle that the meaning is sometimes lost; others write what appears to be simple verse, which holds complicated ideas. A poet who sometimes writes plain poems, which have complex concepts, is Robert Frost. Also his approach to poetry is intense though quite straightforward. Frost thought that the aim of good verse was to ‘break the doggerel, that is to stop the monotony of the regularity of the metrical norm. Rhythm gives metre life and energy; meter gives the rhythm shape and focus. Frost was sceptical of the vers-libristes. He felt that they talk about rhythm but have nothing to interrupt the rhythm because perhaps like Ezra Pound they try to get all the metre out of the poetry! Frost is also fiercely critical of comparing syllables with musical notes as syllables vary with the tone and the content of the poem – syllables are not of a measurable length, they do not have fixed quantity. This aside on Frost only skims the surface of what this outstanding American poet thought about his art but these brief notes give some idea of his commitment to poetry. To sum up, poets have a responsibility to the past, the present and the future. We are merely handing on Greek and Persian traditions – maybe even fragments of the ancient Hittite culture – while at the same time remaining true to the present age and being conscious of how the future will judge us. Before writing the first word of a poem it would be a nice gesture to think about the thousands and millions of writers that have gone before us. To respect them is to respect yourself and your own mind as you forge one smaller link in a very long chain.
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