Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Sheer poetry..

Sometimes, when taking classes, I ask students what might be meant by expressions like 'poetry in motion' and 'pure poetry'. Having got, say, Beyoncé or Nigella out of the way (what you might consider the Barbara Windsor answer), not that I have ever received the true Barbara Windsor answer, we get down to the elements that might comprise such a quality.

The more I have thought about this the less I think 'poetry' is the best complete descriptor of, well, poetry, since 'poetry' in the broader sense is a perceived condition that we might find almost anywhere. What poets do is to aim at producing the poetry sensation in language by writing verse. They get there not by starting from poetry and proceeding through bits of poetry and ending with a poem, that is to say equating process with product, but by the more definable and distinct activity of writing verse. By verse I don't mean this or that technique nor do I mean that which is generally referred to, somewhat vaguely, as 'traditional form'. I mean the activity of arranging words in lines in order to achieve the condition of poetry, which is, in the first place, little more than an apprehension of a state potentially poetic.

That's too abstract for now, but it is the beginning of a line of thought that, I suspect, has not been sufficiently explored. The magic of the activity - the 'poetry' of the process, is the trancelike sharpness of the movement through language, along and in and out of lines of words. Words that, among other things, grow out of analogies. This thing is like that thing is one of the core human discoveries that continually delights. It is like a key to the universe: code echoing code, quality echoing quality.


It is natural in such a context for the words Ryan and Giggs to present themselves. But it is not Giggs himself ('poetry in motion', 'sheer poetry') that is the point here. Today, in an available ten minutes, I glance at the Guardian and see Robert Bagchi writing in article about Giggs. Nor is Bagchi - though it is a very nice article - the point. The point is three phrases that he quotes, two of them about Giggs, the first two from Alex Ferguson.

The first already is well known and describes Ferguson's feelings on first seeing the boy Giggs in a schoolboy game. Ferguson says: He looked as relaxed and natural on the park as a dog chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.

The second, Ferguson adds: A gold miner who has searched every part of the river or mountain and then suddenly finds himself staring at a nugget could not feel more exhilaration than I felt watching Giggs that day.

The third is not Ferguson but the late Don Revie talking, not about Giggs, but about another marvellous winger, Eddie Gray. Revie says: When he plays on snow he doesn't leave any footprints.

These are all beautiful inventions. They are poetry, in language, spoken by men you would never associate with poetry but who can apprehend it and find those telling analogies. It is the silver paper that grabs me in the first, the word exhilaration in the second, and the whole concept in the third.

Let nobody tell you that ordinary people are without poetry, that it is difficult stuff only for the clever and highly educated, who know the right fancy words, that it is a secret esoteric club to be defended by select intellectual bouncers. I am absolutely certain that the sense of poetry is part of the human fabric. It is not a case of most people ignoring most poetry because most poetry ignores most people. It is that people have been allowed to grow up with the feeling that it ignores them. Why has that happened? Why is it still presented as a difficulty rather than as a pleasure?

Because there you go: Ferguson and Revie. And Ryan Giggs himself. And the language weaving itself around him, woven by such as Ferguson and Revie. Poetry in motion.


david lumsden said...

Picking up on simile or metaphor being "like a key to the universe" ... yes, yes ... single words in themselves are so often one-word metaphors, and - as C.S.Lewis noted, we make the same metaphora over and again in different languages ... 'sad' originally meant 'heavy' (we still say 'sad sack') and the word 'grave' traced the same route in Latin (gravis, hence gravity) - and it was Pythagoras who realized mathematics was a key to the universe, and the abstractions of mathematics all say X is Y, that is, they are metaphors. Pythagoras' theorem shows us how all sorts of seemingly different triangles are 'the same' in a deep sense, and topology tells me my coffee cup and my doughnut are the same shape - there's some poetry in that.

The Plump said...

Let nobody tell you that ordinary people are without poetry

Or 'without the ability to benefit', or 'without aspiration', 'without economic benefit' or any of the various excuses that are used for the exclusion of people from the joys of education.

Why is it still presented as a difficulty rather than as a pleasure?

Again, it is the same process of elite self-congratulation, a process that destroys poetry as it destroys popular and accessible adult education.

You are blogging as a true comrade in arms.

James Hamilton said...

"Let nobody tell you that ordinary people are without poetry, that it is difficult stuff only for the clever and highly educated, who know the right fancy words, that it is a secret esoteric club to be defended by select intellectual bouncers." No, don't. But did anyone ever tell anyone that? I'm forever told not, by people whose opinion I respect more than my own.

Dubois said...

I am constantly telling my friends about the beauty of language and poetry in the everyday and in particular in one of my favorite subjects, football. For many I believe poetry is fear of the unknown, fear that they might let themselves down, fear that they might make a fool of themselves. So they just laugh, embarrassed for me, and tell me to shut up. It is nice to know I am not alone in finding poetry in the Guardian Sports pages. Thank you.

George S said...

James, no one I respect would say that regarding poetry as such, but it's lip service. Journalists and publishers just assume it. There was a list of books suitable for children in one of weekend reviews, listing a few hundred books for various age ranges. Not one of them was poetry. Not even an anthology. There are practically no poetry books for children except for a few Stage this or that anthologies. I know this from the Poetry Book Society where I am Chair. There is very little poetry being taught and when it is taught it is taught badly generally by people who believe exactly what I say. They believe it because they themselves are frightened of it.

The idea I attribute to them is assumed, not said, by various very good poets who regard themselves as upholders of standards. You must keep out the rabble, they think. It is assumed and said by novelists like Philip Hensher and A.N. Wilson.

What cheers me enormously are those turns of phrase where people who are nothing to do with poetry produce something that shows they have it in them.

I sometimes think we have made inarticulacy into a shadow virtue. The masses are inarticulate, it is said. Only the clever and sensitive are articulate and they are in a minority, the wise say. The point about those Ferguson and Review phrases is that such people are not removed from the field. They are reachable - are, and should be, part of it.

What upset me most at the meeting was the editor of Granta that for years published no poetry at all nor did she read it, who said most poetry was all the same. Shithead, I thought. You don't read but you pronounce the general superior wisdom.

There are, as you will detect, various points here and I will at some stage try to explore them further.

Poet in Residence said...

I agree that the two Ferguson examples are highly poetic. But I wouldn't call him "ordinary". He must have a doctorate in psychology, or if he hasn't somebody better give him one.

George S said...

I sometimes think, Gwilym, that 'ordinary' is one of those all but useless words, simply because when once you draw attention to something in someone they no longer appear ordinary.

My argument - in so far as it is an argument, and not just a feeling - is that people are capable of more. Not that life should be 'dumbed down' (there's a phrase that tells you a lot), but that it should be assumed that what appears ordinary is far more than it appears.

It is not against difficulty. It is saying that difficulty is far less difficult than people might assume.

It is not against progressive learning, which implies a hierarchy proceeding from the lower to the higher. It is for assuming that people start from a higher base than we imagine, and we would do much better to work on that principle.

It is not being misty-eyed about 'the people', who are perfectly capable of barbarities and stupidities and horrors, as history well demonstrates. It is simply assuming the possibility of an innate dignity and intelligence establishing itself given due care and attention.

This is not some mad idealism. It is, believe it or not, my experience of life after sixty years of it. Not the uniform experience, of course, but the general experience.

Poet in Residence said...

Can the ordinary person use ordinary pins for pinning his ordinary collection of butterflies? I doubt it.
What we take to be ordinary is when we look closely is out of the ordinary. We do well not to make assumptions concerning butterfly collectors or any other ordinary people including, as you say, footballers. I read of a certain football trainer, whose name escapes me, who likes to play computer chess.
"Innate dignity and intelligence establishing itself given due attention" is exactly right. This ought to be the ordinary state of affairs. Some, like you, strive towards the goal. Some, like me, do what we can.
Today, an ordinary day, an ordinary airman just dropped an ordinary bomb and killed some ordinary people. You inspire me, George. I'll poem that!

SueG said...

I'm intrigued with this idea and it reminds me of the question we all ask as children...what makes man different from animals? I know the answer I first came up with was that man has consciousness whereas animals don't. Perhaps self-reflection is a better way of saying it. But the awareness of the poetic moment might be another answer. I also believe that all humans are aware of the poetic moment when it happens. We may not all go to the trouble of finding the right descriptive words for the moment once we've experienced it, but we all feel it when it happens. Just like porn, I guess...we all know it when we see it.

Background Artist said...

I have often been in the general proximity of an idea similar to the speculative notion, that a school of Shakespearean apes, if eternally left alone to type, eventually activate a poetry possible to exist written, and wrought at random in a confluence of desire and daring. Like an infintite string of kites whose tails are letters flying in the imaginable far away airy fairy-scape fiction alone actualised by intellect, emotion and a release by the frightened people, of their fear of heights and embracing the simplicity of ceasing to believe in man made fictions which have no delight beyond the momentary measure.

For what is the incarnet stream of poetry, but eloquence within unexpressed, a nest of tails and tangled inchoate half living breath, manifest in the poetry of life: each and every one of us, born with a trinity, a triskel signalling a three way run, the God con in triplicate, ace king queen, a brilliant arbiter beyond, within, unheard, unseen and ill expressed, as a gibbering ape unless we take a chance on the impulse to assume direction, skate on the Frostean ice, secret stolen levers, cosmically hidden, a galactic within, a universal archtype, a synecdoche, the simian mind 99% and dan of Art, dna, the dolt effin off, H it was Lir they said who took their life, taking a chance on the final simplicity, uncaring to appear foolish, finding the impulse, to instruct and delight, wisdom there in the triplicate stare of the honey bee stealing, found out, unmasked, being daft, after relinquishing the faux fictions and lies of Giggsy, Wayne and Dave, golden lobs and slow balls huffing it round Milan. We'll always have the apprehension of a mystical simian pat, self loather, lover, lathering the toffies, Rushie and the kop, Kenny and Souness, Highway and Benitez, Fergie's art learned, bespoke, a spectacle of bluster, just enough to sway the gods red, the hand of everything and eternity, a butterfly effect.

Only messing about George, I saw your skate and pulled into the rink, flying by the seat of my pants.

at i manc - word verification

Dubois said...

I doubt that Ferguson thought, ah, a poetic moment, when he was describing Giggs.

Why are you all complicating this so much?

George S said...

But that's the point, Dubois. Of course he didn't think it. He just did it - and that is what cheers me (not many things do at the moment.)

Poet in Residence said...

The great Shanks famously said, "In Liverpool we call a spade a shovel", and that's what football managers do. They bring an extra dimension to language "The boy done good" and so on, which is kind of poetic.
On the other hand not all poems are poetry. A friend, not knowing the difference between poems and poetry, gave me a book a Pam Ayers poems for my birthday a couple of years ago. The fact that I have never read it speaks volumes.

Background Artist said...

I dunno why Ayres gets so much begrudgery. We all know she is never gonna win the respect of the clever mob, and I would be loath to admit fancying her myself, but the truth is I remember as a kid, wathicng her shows and thinking she was great. Not now of course, but there is a component of expectation involved here.

Pam Ayres is seemingly free of any feelings of not fulfilling her poetic potential. My folks who are not your typical intellectuals, my dad in particular (and all my friends from school) who view Poetry as a right wing facist shovel worker would gay ballet dancers, and who becomes visibly upset whenever I get close to even uttering anything on the subject, he saw Pam Ayres in Southport theatre, paid probably a tenner a ticket and the place was packed. She would have made what, a thousadn quid for a two hour show, and both my folks loved it.

OK, she aint gonna be seated next to Yeats in Tir Na Og, but she will have a flock of helpers, and who knows, there may be no tir na og, and this here on earth is all we get.

Now, i couldn't see my folks paying 20 quid to sit listening to Geoff Hill for two hours, so what's the measure, beam and balance, how come she is so loved?

When I was in the second year of university, living at home in Aughton with my folks, as a thirty five year old man with no house, car, wife and only a bicycle to claim as my own, I remeber working at my youngest sisters house, five years younger and in a 300K villa opposite the cricket pitch, and we were taking up the back, shifting the outhouse, flags and sheds, and relaying a lawn, and I will never forget those days, my old fella, he had a real burning resistance to his lad, head full of poetry, and I will never forget, his mate was coming round and he said, in a very concerned way, on the cusp of hitting me if I didn't play by the rules (but as a pensioner the old rage incapable of being a real threat) - he said, through gritted teeth, really very very angry:

Do not be talking about Poetry when Bob comes here, right, right?

Horses for courses.

Poet in Residence said...

Hi BA,
I don't for one second begrudge Pam her poems or her success. In fact sweet Pam herself wouldn't want me to call it poetry. She doesn't call it poetry. She calls it poems. 'Some More of Me Poems', was the title of one of her best sellers. She'll not be bringing out her "Collected and Selected" like our own GS. Here's me new poem
dedicated to Pam. It's called BIKE:
There's an old
in our cellar
where the pipes
are solid froze
and all the spiders
are dead
and the mildew happily grows.