We didn’t do poetry at school, as far as I can remember, although we may have skirted it on occasion. But mostly, thanks to the set system, I was one of those deemed not clever enough to bother teaching poetry to. So it passed me by.
It was the Channel 4 show, 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown, that finally got me hooked on poems. More specifically, it was Phil Jupitus, who I’ve since discovered has been writing poetry for years as Porky the Poet. During his appearances he performed comedy haikus and Clerihews and I thought they sounded fun so I’d have a go myself and it was fun.
It then occurred to me that what I was doing was writing poems to a formula or set of rules and maybe that’s why poetry never made much sense to me before. After all, this isn’t the first time I’ve encountered poems, but much of the modern stuff tends to be free verse which can get a bit confusing. Maybe, I thought, there are other formulae or rules for writing poems that I’ve also missed out on.
Obviously there are lots of poetic forms but, as I said, this is all new to me. In hindsight I was actually more aware of form than I’d realised. Even I, with my dodgy education, had managed to become aware of sonnets, ballads, odes and limericks.
Except I wasn’t, was I.
I’d heard of them, but in reality I had no idea what actually qualified as an ode or a sonnet or whatever. We can safely say I knew about limericks but I don’t think I’d ever considered them a poetic form before. Learning is fun!
So I bought myself a book called The Ode Less Travelled by Mr Stephen Fry which is ace and I highly recommend it if you want to learn about poetry. It covers, meter and rhyme and form; lots of forms. It has fun stuff too, as you might expect from Mr Fry, including a section on dirty limericks, Clerihews and acrostics (using the word ARSEWIPE). Just my kind of book.
There are also a lot of exercises to get you thinking about poetry and to ensure you understand it. I tried to do them all but stopped when I got to Sestinas because they’re more awkward than I could be arsed with and they can go and fuck themselves.
So now I understand a lot more about poems than I ever did before and I’m starting to read more poetry too. And I’m discovering exactly what it is that I hate about poetry and I’m finding it’s making me really angry.
I suppose anger is a good thing because it means I’m learning. Instead of just saying, that’s shit, I can now say, “That’s pretentious shit and your four lines about how crows are the laughter of summer ending with a single CAW! are not a fucking haiku despite your hashtag.”
I’m also discovering what kind of poems I do like. This was helped by the purchase of a couple of compilation volumes including The Rattle Bag. I highly recommend this book too. It’s edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney, so you know it’s good, and it contains some of their favourite poems. Nothing too long or complicated made it into this book. It’s just a good range of poems from a good variety of poets. And it’s not all stuffy old poems either. There’s something for everyone, which is why I bought it. Although I fully expected to hate at least 95% of the stuff in there (and I did), I knew I’d also find out what I like. Which is how I discovered Ogden Nash who wrote:
Reflection on Ice-Breaking
The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.
What I liked most about the poetry of Ogden Nash is that he does lots of the things I’d starting thinking about doing with my own poems. Misspelling words to make them rhyme, for example, or ignoring meter completely and being a little freer with line length a la the Clerhew. And of course my own very short poems:
On Doing a Spot of Exercise
A Prosodic Study of the Relationship Between
A Travelling canine
His Parasitic Companion
Get off me!
looked, to my eyes at least, very Nash like; which I found encouraging even if I clearly have a long way to go yet. And that encouraged me to go and buy a collection of Ogden Nash poems.
So buying The Rattle Bag was a great idea and you should buy it. It also contains the Ballad of Dangerous Dan McGrew and My baby ‘as gawn dahn the plug’ole! And you’ll find much good stuff by Keats, Dickenson, Frost Plath and the rest.
So now I’m writing poems. Really bad ones. But at least I’m having fun and I’m sticking to comedy poems so as to not be a pretentious twat. I don’t think I could do a serious poem if my life depended on it. I’ve always said I could never write a taut political thriller unless it was called, Mr Monkey Goes to Washington. I think the same applies to me writing serious poems. Nobody would believe it and it would just sound like I was taking the piss anyway.
So, there we have it, poetry. Who’d have thought I’d be doing poems? Even if it is comedy haikus and shit I’m having fun and that’s all that really matters. I’ll be annoying you all with some of my poems in later articles and we can all learn together.