To celebrate National Poetry Day, I’d like to share with you my favourite poem:
A downpour lies in wait,
Licking itself like an ice cream,
A soaking cools its heels.
Tiny creatures scurry,
Cows sit and ponder, at the edge of their minds a torrent
They’ll never see coming.
Tiny creatures scurry,
Dread held at bay
By plastic shields.
A downpour is coming,
Without a cloud in the sky.
Well, that’s poetry for you. Earlier today I was at Moorgate station, a place where raging commuters collide, propelled by the momentum of being nowhere near late for jobs they hate in the financial sector. And because it’s National Poetry Day this week, they were reading poems over the tannoy. Poems that were, because poems always are, worthless shite.
What’s the point of poetry? Before you denounce me as a low-browed barbarian, note that I have actually read all of Journey to the End of the Night in full and enjoyed it, and that music is sometimes the only thing that keeps my finger off the trigger. Poetry sits between the two splendid creative forms of music and prose, and contrives to pilfer the worst aspect of each – trite, vacant lyrics and nothing resembling a coherent story or plot. Fifty Shades of Grey as written by Liam Gallagher.
I have to admit that more people than usual had a small smile on their face at Moorgate this morning, which isn’t hard given it’s usually a morass of doomed office drones harbouring murderous thoughts. I suppose some people were enjoying the poetry. Then again they’d smile at anything coming out of the tannoy that wasn’t news of the Circle line being suspended between Baker Street and the Barbican due to the euphemistic ‘customer incident’. The shipping forecast read by Danny Dyer would liven up a morning at Moorgate far more than ‘Tiger Tiger burning bright’, whatever the hell that might mean. A tiger on fire somewhere, is it?
I just found that line in a poem by William Blake, having Googled ‘best poems ever’. The page I ended up on has a selection of ten famous poems and – here’s the key to all this – the ‘meaning’ of each. This is an interpretation bestowed upon each by Christ knows who – never the author – and I’d wager a different meaning to the one conjured up by the Christ knows who who wrote about the bloody thing the week before.
Every poem can mean whatever the hell you want. For some this is poetry’s great joy. For the sane, that’s its utter absurdity in a nutshell. If every poem can mean what you want it to, what makes any of those ten a classic more than any other? There’s no more a ‘best’ poem than there is a best painting or a best wine, two other safe harbours for making it up as you go along.
Poets are fucking chancers. There’s a reason people take writers of novels seriously while poets are viewed as feckless layabouts in the Withnail mould, struggling with their art in a bid to ward off the threat of the dole queue. Poetry is the refuge of people without the talent for music or the patience or ideas to write at length. In a world of cricket and football, poetry is rugby.
Poets will be the first down the mines when it’s my turn in charge, and you can rest assured they’ll take with them the work of the master charlatan himself: Shakespeare. OK so some of his plays are bearable, but he tossed off a load of poems as well and had the cheek to call them ‘sonnets’. My glass shall not persuade me I am old, So long as youth and thou are of one date. My boot up your seat shall persuade you I am unimpressed, So long as your words make more sense to hound than man.
Curiously the current Poet Laureate gets my seal of approval. Simon Armitage is a soft-spoken Yorkshireman whose poetry I’ve heard perhaps more than that of anyone else. This is because he used to pop up on Mark and Lard’s Graveyard Shift back in the day, in between the musings of the Rabbi Lionel Blair and Dick and Ken the Snooker Men, and the smooth grooves of Tony McCaroll’s Classical Gas. Armitage was part of my personal golden age of radio, when it was all right to laugh at a quiz named ‘Bird or Bloke’. Sadly now he’s just a poet, wishing he could come up with something as creatively groundbreaking as “Fuck my hat, I didn’t know that!”
Did you like my favourite poem up top there? Before it dawned on you what was going on here, I bet part of you thought “It’s all right I suppose”. Because who wrote it? I bloody did of course, in five minutes this morning, before 9am. I’ve only had one cup of tea today and I have a cold. It’s obviously awful and means nothing, but I’ve a whole book of those in my head if you want me to plop it out. So do you, so do we all, because a few lines of drivel like that and you are, officially, ‘a poet’, and no-one call tell you otherwise.
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
You’ll fucking struggle, sunshine.