I have a dear friend whom I admire in all things and who herself writes beautifully and clearly but who has what I consider a blind spot. “Ian,” she says, “I love your columns but when I see those indents coming in the text denoting poems I skip!” Ah, well, nobody is perfect and anyway the fact is that most people feel the same way.
Poetry, that age-old art, which first issued from the throats of man in cadenced song thousands of years gone by and which has lit the minds and lifted up the hearts and healed the souls of men and women through the ages, is now hardly noticed by the general population. People at large have little conception of what Pushkin, the Russian who wrote some of the greatest poetry ever written in the early 19th century, was talking about when he said, “That hour is blessed when we meet a poet … he stands on a basis of equality with the powerful of the earth and the people bow down before him.”
I hardly think these days poets are counted among the powerful of the earth. And yet… it is remarkable how often the words of Martin Carter find themselves on the lips of the widest range of influential people who may scarcely know the details of his work yet lines of his poetry have become part of their mental makeup and are used to warn and inspire. And again … I wonder how many politicians or businessmen, however eminent, who capture the headlines every day will get or deserve the sort of celebration of their 100th birth anniversary which was accorded to the poet A J Seymour just recently.
Now at the risk of turning off those who, like my honest friend, lose enthusiasm for what I write when poetry puts in an appearance, I share three short poems that I came across and struck me recently.
The first is by Helen Klein Ross, giving an ironic glimpse of a very ordinary meeting between two women from extraordinarily different backgrounds.
A shampooist in an uptown hair salon warns a matron not to lean too far back on the sink. The salon is being renovated and the sink needs adjustment.
The shampooist is new. This time last year, she wasn’t a shampooist.
She was a chemist in a country now erased by a war.
This is an adventure, the matron observes, gingerly tilting her head back until it rests on the porcelain.
Yes, an adventure, the shampooist says, reaching for a towel to cushion her neck.
A poem by Anne Carson in just one or two lines gets the essence of how some leaders cannot resist blood and battle lust.
Short Talk On Herbology
The emperor considers his options. How he longed for
the rhythm of campaigning, riding fast in foggy woods,
riding slow eating chickpeas, accurate killing, little
strange herbs of the frontier for his collection, little new
bitter smells. He stood up. Arrest the envoys, he said.
And the third poem is by Roger McGough which speaks for itself.
Five Ways to Help You Pass Safely Through a Dark Wood Late at Night
1. Whistle a tune your father whistled when you were a child
2. Cross the first two fingers of your left hand
3. If you lose sight of the moon hold it in the mind’s eye
4. Imagine the colours that surround you waiting for the first kiss of morning
5. Keep a Kalashnikov in the glove compartment.
We must make certain that poetry continues to live in this land. I hope that much is being done to ensure this. I do not get about as much as I once did so I think and hope I am missing a great deal. I am too old and set in my ways to visit the Upscale restaurant for their performance poetry sessions but I hear of their vibrancy and my heart commends them. Last year I participated in a workshop for young poets at Moray House and found joy in their promise and enthusiasm and I know that other workshops have been held. And I was struck with astonishment and delight at the overflowing attendance at the Theatre Guild’s Playhouse in January to listen to the concert/readings in honour of the poet and great man of letters A J Seymour. Let there be more occasions for poetry. Let the teaching of poetry in the schools be revived and extended. Let the younger generation never forget the timeless words and cadences which have given inspiration in all ages in every land.