Wednesday, 14 January 2009
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.