22 December 2011

I Just Don’t Get Poetry.

I don’t get it. I would like to get it; don’t think this is a disparaging post attacking the old art form. But I just don’t understand poetry, how it ‘works’, and its place in the world.
This is my own fault for never having venturing to learn much about it. I delved into poetry as most people do when I was forced to learn a bit about it in school. But as with most things that you are told are important in school, I instantly began to question its significance, and loath the fact that I was being told otherwise. That objective view of importance always bugged me in school, especially concerning the more subjective parts of education, like art, writing or music. I have an inherent contrarian nature, so when I was just told that a poem was good because of a certain property imbued by its author, or was to take it on authority that an artwork was superior to others based on some intrinsic quality; I would always take the opposing viewpoint.
These days however, as I look upon the world with different eyes than those of my school years, I can’t help but see the seemingly numinous effect that poetry has on people, and understand that there must be something to it.
I find that for me the same can be said of most forms of art, in that I can see its influence on people and know it must have a level of depth and syntonical understanding that is simply beyond me. I do however have more of an understanding of the visual arts than I do of poetry. There are pieces of art that I like; that I have some deep visceral reaction to, or primal sense of beauty about. I look at The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai, or Picasso’s Guernica and I just like it. That being said, whenever I try and read some poetry I can’t help but think ‘Oh come on, just say it plainly and skip the melodical to and fro already’.
Definitely one of my favourite arts.......
In this time of instant gratification and Twitter feeds and rock music, and other tropes that old people might stereotypically use to explain the modern world,  I don’t have the time to search for subtext; I’m pretty much all contained on the surface. I want to know what you are saying, and I want to be able to analyse it, and learn from it.
Perhaps this is why I find it easier to enjoy visual arts than I do poetry; you just have to look at it. You don’t need to think about it, nor do you even have to pay attention. You just look at the painting, and if you’re lucky it evokes some feelings in you. For poetry to do the same I would have to either listen to it, or read it, then comprehend what was being said before I could even get to the point of seeing if it affects me in any meaningful way.
I like a painting because of how I feel about it, and it doesn’t have to be explained or even rational.
In other words I like the lazy arts.
Lazy, but still pretty cool.
Perhaps this is why I don’t understand poetry. Poetry uses language, and for me there must be a defined point to the application of language, as it is made up of such structured and logical constructs. Subject–verb–object: simple. I know what you are talking about, and I can infer what I need with relative confidence.
Being quite a logical person, I am much more comfortable when I know that I am on the right track. I like objective truths more than I do personal preferences. That you can read a poem and get something completely different out of it than I do is a bit unsettling for me, because there is no correct way to go about it. Ironically, the lack of orthodoxy which causes my unease is exactly the thing that I rallied for in school; a freedom from imposed interpretation.
Perhaps what I really want is a rational way to explain why art affects us in certain ways, as not doubt the answer lies somewhere in that indeterminable beast between our ears. But until that time comes, I think I just need to embrace the uncertainty inherent in art, and perhaps find solace in its personally fulfilling nature.
The most I know about poetry is contained entirely within either my ability to make haikus (This is a haiku, this much I do know for sure, as it’s so easy), or else within the one poem I have bothered to save into my collection; the Second Coming, by William Butler Yeats. But hell, even AJ from the Sopranos has read that one.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    has always been a bit of a douche
Nevertheless, I now find that I like the idea of poetry. I like the ability people must have to evoke feelings through wordplay, to plumb the depths of the human experience and present it in a weird and wonderful way that affects people, even if they don’t quite understand why. I like the idea that poetry, like all art, can be universally appealing, but intimately subjective.
I like these things in theory, but I just haven’t made the effort to put this theory into practice, and see how it relates to me. I have however taken the first step, in getting myself a copy of The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. And if anyone is going to get me interested in this, certainly the inimitable Mr Fry is the man to do it.

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