It’s National Poetry Day. We’re told in the Daily Telegraph that poetry is mathematics, but I do believe that the article is layered with jest. I certainly hope so: in any case, I don’t think that apart from certain rough and ready forms, poetry needs much support. Like the old Benedictine analogy, a rotting trellis will do to support the unpredictable writhings and amorphous shapes of the tendrils that grow there. If Robert Frost believed that writing poems without precise form is like playing tennis without a net, he clearly has never had the joy of playing tennis without a net – or, indeed, without a racquet such as in one of the few worthwhilefilmic metaphors in the clunky Antonioni movie, Blow Up.
National this and national that, it actually does my head in. I saw a board poster the other week, boring-exciting and dead collage style that they churn out of art colleges these days, which I first thought was advertising a new telly or teen magazine, the sort you can read on the bus with just enough interest held between stops to get you home without cracking up with boredom. It was advertising amusement, excitement, freshness; the words ‘powerful’, ‘invigorating’ and ‘provocative’ were there too. I only got a glimpse but that’s all you need for most things these days. On the next day the bus was fortuitously halted while a can of cider attached to a happy man was extracted from the road, and saw that the billboard was advertising an arts event. Or happening. Or installation. Part of the alternative stream of the two-weeks mainstream arts festival. Sort of fringe stuff.
I believe that the poem plastered on Marks and Spensers by Roger McGough in the centre of Liverpool saves me a lot of effort here. The idea of an ode to M&S, written by Radio 4’s poet in residence, brazen and unashamedly looking over one of the city’s main public squares fits in perfectly with the consumption of poetry. The only thing I’d add is that, and maybe I meet the wrong people, whereas I suffer the frustration of needing time, a very great deal of time, to read poetry and literature, others seem to do so while at the same time, on the bus perhaps, travelling between ‘venues’, and consuming vast amounts of latte therein. I really am an old cynic. Or maybe just old, fashioned oldly. I still have to give hours, and yes I do have to – it’s part of who I am – to private reading and writing. It may be just that old people are slow. I just don’t to seem to have the energy to watch endless television ‘about’ the arts, or visit the eternal round of venues and art factories. (I’d add that I do believe in things like writers’ groups, and serious community arts projects which involve single-minded attention, dedication, and most of all, that deeply unfashionable word, effort. I should add humility too.)
Anyway, who will I be reading this ‘national poetry day’? It’s Paul Farley, who happens to be from Liverpool, write with reference to Liverpool and from a refracted autobiographical base: such attributes are contingencies, for he is a very good poet, and one, I believe, who fully deserves the accolade of being recognised for his poetry and not for his accidental associations with the city of culture.