What role will poetry play in the year 2000?
-and what exactly is poetry anyway!
‘An artistic way of describing things’….sounds nice. ‘A persons effort to express himself through rhyme or not’….interesting. ‘rhyming lines’….not always. ‘Attractive verses’….close. ‘don’t av a clue mate!’…………..
Whilst trying to establish a definition for the word ‘poetry’ as you can see from the answers to my questionnaire I came across interesting, amusing and clever descriptions. My own favourite definition sums up my feeling about poetry, it is something I read on the back of a poetry book recently;
‘poetry is to prose as dancing is to walking.’
Poetry means the something different to almost everyone from the window cleaner who left school at fourteen to the highly educated head of English at Malvern College. Poetry is whatever you want to be, whatever it means to you personally and whatever it means to the poet.
I have interviewed over twenty people and what I have established is that everyone has their own definition of poetry. However there is a basic difference between poetry and prose. It seems to be that poetry can be set out in many different formats, and does not necessarily need to make complete sense (even though it has a meaning) Prose is set out in a ordered way where one sentence is always followed by
another sentence, it follows the same punctuation rules and a continuous, logical pattern.
The reason I think that everyone defines poetry differently is that we are exposed to so many totally different types of poetry.
My favourite form of poetry is song lyrics. Although not one of the most obvious forms of poetry it is becoming increasingly
popular especially with young people who are exposed to it regularly. For example every time you buy a C.D album or tape you can read the lyrics of the songs printed inside. A favourite of mine is a song called ‘Pockets’ by ‘Beautiful South’;
‘Here comes pockets
His trousers hold a thousand deadly sins
The maddest things we ever found in bins
He clutches them and looks at you and grins.’
It may not be Shakespeare, but it is poetry nevertheless. It is interesting that when I ask people if they could recite any poetry to me, most of them said “no”. However when I said that it could be words from a song most people were immediately able to give a recitation of some sort!
Another type of poetry with great impact in today’s society is commercial poetry. This is used in advertising regularly, it seems that big companies have recognised that we remember things better if they rhyme.
‘A mars a day helps work, rest and play”
We are exposed to advertising jingles everywhere on television, in magazines, on radio and on billboards. So it is not surprising that most us are able to recite or remember some kind of slogan or another, having been bombarded with them continuously.
Greetings cards can also contain poetry, especially valentines cards as poetry is often related to romance. You hopefully have received or written in your life a poem like this;
‘Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
And so are you’
Two of the ladies I interviewed – a laundry lady and a cook both said that their favourite type of poetry the sort you find in operas. (and also plays). It is often old fashioned and sometimes complicated but still relies on rhythm and repetition, which makes it both appealing and attractive even if you can’t understand it.
One of these ladies had studied higher education and the other had not, neither was well off. I had thought that generally it would be wealthy or educated people that enjoyed this sort of entertainment but obviously I was wrong. These two ladies particular liked the type of opera and play that was poetic!
It is interesting that today most people would wrongly think that opera and theatre were only for “educated” and/or well off people. It is ironic that in Shakespeare’s times entertainment of this time appealed particular to poor and totally uneducated people. Perhaps the image of ‘boring’ plays has scared off the less ‘educated’ people in today’s society.
So poetry can have a very commercial role as an advertising, a very popular role such as song lyrics, a useful role like in greeting cards or an entertaining role like in operas and plays. However we must not forget the most diverse sort of poetry, poetry books!
Poetry are written on serious subjects like death, love and war or such trivial things as amoebas, teenage spots, old slippers or farmyard animals (are teenage spots really trivial?!).
Poetry is extremely accessible. From the moment we are born we are exposed to nursery rhymes like ;
‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.’
Then at school we learn to spell difficult words like “difficulty” through rhyme.
‘Mrs D Mrs I Mrs F F I Mrs C Mrs U Mrs L T Y!’
Later at GCSE we almost all study poems by Shakespeare, Keats, Chaucer or Wordsworth. Then some people go on to study English Literature at university and look at poetry in much greater detail. However the rest of us are still exposed to poetry every day, when we listen to the radio, walk down the high street or send someone a valentines card.
Some people love poetry for poetry sake, e.g when I asked one lady if I could question her about poetry she said
‘Oh yes please! I love poetry.’
and she was able to recite a poem she remembered from school about a ‘violet’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcocks. She was in her 60’s and if she had not been made to recite poetry at school she would have missed many wonderful experiences and enjoyable moments in the rest of her life.
We have looked into the role of poetry today for the reader, the user, and the listener, but the most important person is the poet, without whom we would have no poetry. Poetry is basically a formal expression it gives poets the chance to convey their feelings in a way that prose cannot compete with. It also gives us the chance to experience their feelings.
A good example of this is the War poets who changed our thoughts and feelings on war. I can’t believe that anyone who has read a poem like ‘Dolce et Decorum est’ could not feel moved.
Because of the different roles of poetry today there are many opportunities for poets to make a living, form traditional Poet Laureates like the late Ted Hughes to the people who are paid to write slogans for advertisements.
As we approach the millennium it is obvious that the role of poetry is expanding both as a commercial tool and as a private indulgence in our leisure time. Today there are new poets for every mood and occasion, there are more song writers, more script-writers, more advertisements, more poets than ever before. This is because poetry has many roles from persuading Mr. Smith to buy a Mars bar to giving Dot the laundry lady endless hours of pure enjoyment.