A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post inspired by the words “poems are hard”, which appeared on a local pub chalkboard. It’s not just the poems themselves that are hard, though: it’s even hard to get people to agree on what poetry is.
Some people think that poetry should deal with the big issues of Life, Love and Death, others that it should be all kittens and flowers, sweetness and light; some think it should make us look at familiar things and occurrences as if they were new; others that it should make the personal universal; some think it should have structure and be carefully crafted, others that it should rhyme, others that it should be written “from the heart” and therefore anything goes.
These are just a few of the quotations about poetry that I have collected over the years:
“The oldest, most passionate, concentrated literary form.”
“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley
“Poetry is like making a joke. If you get one word wrong at the end of a joke, you’ve lost the whole thing.”
W S Merwin
“Poetry is at least an elegance and at most a revelation.”
“Poetry is the journal of the sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.”
“Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.”
“The most complex and ‘adult’ word-game of all: the poem.”
I think that last one is probably my favourite.
Whatever your views on what poetry is, there are audiences for all kinds of writing. And, in the same way, there are people who will object to almost any writing for one reason or another. Which presumably explains why the local bookshop has received an anonymous letter complaining about the “rude and offensive naughty poetry and song” that is performed at the open mike nights.
It would probably be almost as difficult to get everyone to agree on the definition of “rude and offensive” as it is to get them to agree on a definition of poetry.
Now I should find some potentially offensive poems to post. Let’s start with this brief fragment:
We laze in jasmine-scented waters
while stainless steel appliances
fart us into relaxation.
Of course, people get offended for all sorts of reasons. I described in the post Moving experiences the offence that this piece caused, which wasn’t due to the language:
The rip and fart of parcel tape; the tangle,
stick and cuss; the smell of dust,
mothballs and corrugated cardboard.
Drugstore detergent cartons
stuffed and trussed
and stacked in the spare room.
Both cats in heat and looking
for a mate, a nest, a fond caress…
They play at pigs in pokes, scrabble,
scratch and snag at boxes, plastic bags
and bundles, wail and waul.
When finally I move, I’ll leave
fixtures and fittings
and two grown kittens.
It seems even poems about kittens and flowers can be offensive.