‘A POEM SHOULD BE PALPABLE AND MUTE / As a globed fruit’, says Archibald MacLeish in his poem Ars Poetica [‘The art of poetry’].
Poems are very often inspired by our experiences in life and it is part of the challenge of writing poetry to find ways of expressing our thoughts and feelings without mentioning them directly – which is the business of prose.
MacLeish writes that ‘A poem should be wordless / As the flight of birds’…‘A poem should be equal to: / Not true’. So a poet may write of things, without writing them down exactly as they are, because a poem should be equal to its inspiration, but not the true inspiration itself.
This may infer that in a poem the sun is not the sun but what the poet describes it as being equal to; for example Brenda Fitzpatrick in her poem Sun describes it as ‘A lunatic mass / of caged infinity / suspended in rage’.
Another example is the experience of a lonely sunset, where a poem may not describe the sunset itself but rather what it represents i.e. what that experience of the sunset is equal to: ‘A painful beauty here / ripped seams of content / scattered at listless feet / another separate sunrise / aches on our horizon’.
The poignant feeling is created by the certain knowledge that after one beautiful sunset comes a sunrise which will commence another day spent without loved ones close by.
Poetry communicates our experiences in a way that prose cannot. There are many different types of poetry and sonnets are just one of them.
Ars Poetica is Andrew MacLeish take on modern poetry, which developed in contrast to the traditional forms of poetry, which was based on rigid rules.
Modernist poets rebelled against the ‘archaic forms’. My own opinion is that whatever form a poem may take is not decided entirely by the writer but by the creative process and the creation – “Where a poem arrives is inseparable from How it arrives.”
Sonnets may be considered old fashioned, but so is the round shape of the wheels on the latest design of motor vehicles. So if it works, use it.
A poem is sometimes like a wheel that bears the vehicle of our thoughts and feelings. The road may be bumpy but a wheel makes the movement easier and the vehicle momentum continues.
This is part of our duty as poets; to provide a wheel to carry us over the bumpy terrain that leads us to where we want to be.
But sometimes a poem must cause a bump in the road to awaken us from otherwise not paying attention to the path we are travelling down. And this too is a part of a poet’s duty.
However, the poem we create is not to lecture but to remind us of what we share in common; our humanity, our morality and our desire for betterment.
As poets we must decide how we will behave in the poems we write, to provide a wheel or a bump.
“Poetry should guide all those who are safe into the middle of busy roads and leave them there” (Brian Patten).
Sonnet 5: The old man in the cripple chair
That old man in the cripple chair
Has no time to spare for smiling
Selling wares to buyers willing
To part with just a little change.
A cardboard box plays on his lap
The jingles of our currency
The music of our sympathy
But I have never heard him laugh.
Won’t someone share with him a while
The priceless music in a smile?
Two reasons why we dig holes
Burying dead bodies usually takes place
In fancy holes dug on some land space.
Most people dig those holes somewhere nice
But sometimes they don’t have a choice.
Some people burn dead bodies to ashes
And this really saves on available land spaces.
Sometimes dead bodies are buried at sea
And slowly sink into muck for eternity.
Other fancy holes are dug large enough,
For the removal of some valuable stuff.
Sometimes these holes are dug some place nice
And most times people don’t have a choice.
When all the valuable stuff’s gone offshore
The hole is back-filled and land space restored.
Today we can dig holes in the seafloor
Right through the eternal muck and more.
Holes should be dug to bury the dead
And to remove valuable stuff instead.
Reading on a rainy day
A late start for me today, it’s raining in Lae – no surprise – and good for me.
I enjoy musing, reading and writing in this kind of weather.
Everything is dripping with rain or damp with cold moisture and the colloidal mixture of rain clouds and sunlight provides an intense white and grey overcast.
This is the kind of weather when one enjoys a refreshing yawn and a long stretch as eyes mist over – meanwhile the mind scans some unseen room.
I’m recalling childhood days like this at Clapham North, in London England.
At school, children would not be allowed out to play at recess time, so we’d dare each other to explore alone the higher floors and the attics of the large old school building.
I’d eventually make my way into an upstairs library to dawdle and gawk at books I couldn’t imagine reading and then read those books that were intelligible to me at eight.
Today, in PNG, we have computers and the Internet and one can go anywhere and read anything with the swish-click of a mouse.
Back then the mouse was a crawling turtle and there were only six directions we could move it by typing on a keypad.
And I miss those days of braving the cold silence alone in an old building, walking upstairs to a library to read.