Thursday, 8 September is LIVE Australian poetry day.
Be liberated to find poetry and the inspiration for poems in every part of life.
At a poetry festival once, someone came up to me and posed a very interesting question. His friend, a weekend footballer, had recounted a particularly tough game to him and finished with: ‘Mate, when the whistle blew, we all just collapsed on the grass. We were breathing so hard we were suckin’ in the seagulls.’
My interlocutor asked me very earnestly now, was THAT poetry ? I said of course it was (mentally filing it away in the box in my mind marked STEAL FOR LATER). He seemed to want to argue the point with me and I honestly can’t remember much else about the discussion except that it went on until my sandwich order was ready.
This was 18 months ago and I have been doing a lot of thinking about it since. Why was I so sure that statement was poetry, and why did the person who shared it with me have doubts ? Now I need to preface this part of the discussion with a warning that I am NOT going to get all academic on yo’ asses. Please don’t click away yet ! Funny Jokes further down !
Rather than get way down into it, let me summarise the two points of view thus:
Not Poetry: author not qualified – no higher degree in literary theory – had not sufficiently researched history and theory of seagulls, sucking, respiration, physical struggle or previous poetry touching thereon – did not intend as poetry – not performed in appropriately poetic setting (i.e. other humans present all awake even if some lying down)
Poetry: Metaphor – compression – authenticity – vividness – unexpectedness – humour – connection with audience – memorable quality
After wasting all those words getting here, I think it all boils down to this: poetry, like music, is all around if you listen. If you manage to catch some and write it down and put your name to it, it might then go down on the permanent record as poetry / music that came from you, and it will be capable of being re-performed / re-vived in a similar way each time by different readers / performers. But the stuff that doesn’t get captured that way is no less poetry or music for being ephemeral.
(And I’ll let you in on a little secret – you don’t actually need to have studied English at postgraduate level to write (or catch) something that can be called a poem. It might make you more efficient at it – but really all you need is a pulse, a reasonably operational brain, access to a public library, paper and a pencil. And perhaps a decent technical manual like Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. But shh, don’t tell anyone I told you).
So as you go about your day today, listen to what is going on around you. Can you find something as good as ‘sucking in the seagulls’ ? Enjoy it for itself – or steal it for later. Why not post it in the comments below ? (use a copyright symbol if you’re feeling vulnerable).
That’s me and my reflective mood for now. Tomorrow is CELEBRATE Australian Poetry Day. See you then !