I like writing bad ‘poetry’. Occasionally I’ll even write a poem almost half as good as one of the worst poems published by third rate poets. I have an idea of ‘taste’ by which I mean a willingness to make a value judgment about a poem.
The same is true of stories. There are other media I dabble in too. The reason I do so is partly gratuitous: it’s fun. In the case of ‘poetry’, I admit that sometimes I write an angry rant shoddily disguised by throwing a few line breaks and rhymes in: writing as emotional catharsis (although I’m not convinced that expressing strong emotion in any form is actually beneficially cathartic).
The more refined purpose of writing or producing in other media is that I firmly believe that it develops my appreciation of highly skilled work. To that extent, it’s no different from playing football with heart and soul with a like-minded team and opposition, something immensely satisfying on its own, but also something which intensifies appreciation for the good players.
Now that is just my own position. To concentrate on poetry, I’ve been reading it since I can remember and I still only have a small number of poets with whom I connect. You could easily pass me a piece of gibberish and tell me that it was a translation of a famous Peruvian poet, and I wouldn’t question you: I’d tell you hoenestly, though, that I wasn’t getting anything from it. There are poets I have had to work very hard to receive. On a few occasions there has been a success, and the work and patience have brought rich rewards. I repeat, though, that the list of poets I would regard as having made poetry worthwhile to my life were their poetry the only thing I ever had read, is small. Wallace Stevens would be on the list. Then there is a longer list of poets who I continue to enjoy immensely but seem less powerful to me: Many English poets (including Shakespeare); Hopkins perhaps if I give more time to may enter the first list.
A word is a communal sign, and I share the word ‘poetry’ at different levels. I think what I have been alluding to above perhaps involves something along the lines of compression, extraordinary connectionism done with simplicity, bareness of imagery except for images that ‘blow your head off’ as Emily Dickinson would have it. For the rest, anything goes. Whether Dylan is a songwriter, lyricist or Welsh poet doesn’t interest me. I am not particularly interested in genera and species of folk musics, ballads and so forth but I do love so much the pleasurable play of words in all their expressive musical or lyrical myriad possibilitiies.
There are many who enjoy poetry reading events. They’re not for me, but then neither is opera or karaoke. There are thousands of small poetry publications, especially with the internet. I am sure among them will be some excellent poets coming through but I wait for others to laud them, and even then I’ll wait ten years because by then praise for the poet should have increased considerably. It’s important to listen out for the new voice, but not for novelty or fashionable twist. A more poetry-centred person would have as essential that vigilance for the voice which represents a shift and continuation, and, I think, give a sense of embodiment in the contemporary culture and language of the world,
I think that for me (for whom poetry is not a vital aspect of my life: I am the average diletantee) it’s simply to do with the fact that there are already so many great poets, even on my own shelves, for me still to read. And, of course, and this is the most important thing of all, the handful of poets whom a person may be lucky enough to read over and over throughout a lifetime.