I posted this five years ago but am reposting it now because it gives in a nutshell something of my approach to poetry – and poets!
I jotted down these thoughts last year while reading this wonderful collection of poems, then put it aside and … came across it again the other day. They don’t constitute a review as such but they are perhaps worth posting.
Is it perhaps, then, not the poetry – or poetry as such – but the poets?
Wendy Cope – like Elizabeth Bartlett, another very observant and sensistive modern poet herself – seems to thinks so.
I used to think all poets were Byronic –
Mad, bad and dangerous to know.
And then I met a few. Yes, it’s ironic –
I used to think all poets were Byronic.
They’re mostly wicked as a ginless tonic
And wild as pension plans.
Why would Marilyn Monroe and Wendy Cope say things like that? But notice the adjective Byronic. It wasn’t people like Byron, and Chaucer and Shakespeare, Donne and Blake and Shelley, Browning and Tennyson, who gave poets a bad name. Or Robert Graves or George Barker or Peter Porter. Or Auden, who was gay but had balls. (Those of you who don’t read poetry often or much may recall Switch Off All the Lights in the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.) Or Eliot, who wore a veneer of respectability that could fool all except those who read and love real poetry, yet beneath the surface was seething with the mad, bad and wild. “I should have been a pair of ragged claws / Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”
Real poetry. So perhaps after all, it is not just the poets but the poetry. Let me be honest. If a poem neither moves nor amuses me – nor even shock or arouses me – what use have I for it? Yawn, yawn – well-crafted – yawn, yawn – lovely alliteration – yawn, yawn – original rhyme scheme – yawn, yawn, yawn, zzzzz …
“A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.” Only a eunuch would look at a woman the way many modern poets look at the world!
Elizabeth Bartlett looks at the world the way a woman looks at a man.
No. Come on, Kanti. I’m writing these notes sitting outside a café in Paris – it’s October, and the weather is perfect – and every single male head, young or old, alone or in company, turns to watch every single remotely nubile female body walk past. It’s “a man thing”. Try again.
Elizabeth Bartlett looks at the world the way a real woman looks at the world: amused, aroused, awed, sympathetic, sometimes censorious, sometimes shocked, but always human. Passionately so. And never, ever boring. Apart from Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe (which I must review!) this is the only book of poetry I have ever read on and on into the night and the following day, unable not to turn the page.
I challenge you to yawn while you are reading these poems!
I’ll write a better introduction to this wonderful collection of poems in another post next week.