Day Two Hundred and Twenty Eight: “Nothing Is Not Giving Messages”

Today’s post is about two things.

Firstly, Philip Levine has been named the new American Poet Laureate. I am unfamiliar with his work, however this interview with NPR has gotten me really interested. He talks a bit about his work, his inspiration and what poetry means to him. Worth checking out and it’s especially worth listening to in order to hear him reading one of his poems.

Which brings me onto the other thing this blog is about: poetry, what it means to me and, perhaps most importantly, how people react to poetry.

It irks me that people don’t enjoy and/or read poetry more. Most are happy to pick up a book, even a classic, and read and enjoy it. Why not with poetry?

I can’t remember who said it, but poetry is language distilled. Every word in its place. Nothing by chance. Nothing by committee. No rash decisions. No usage of words or phrases just because “they’ll do”. Poetry is the pinnacle of language. Indeed, it is words refined.

We’re exposed to poetry in school and, like all literature one studies in school, we’re made to analyse it – I can’t read Of Mice and Men because of how it was torn apart in school. There’s nothing like being forced to dissect something against your will to put you off it for the rest of your life.

In fact, this is one of the reasons why many people find it hard enjoy Shakespeare, or so I hear.

I came to poetry through music. In my youth many lyricists were, in my angst ridden eyes, as good as some poets, and it was around the time I was really getting into music that we started to look at Wilfred Owen in school. I’ve yet to revisit him since, right enough, but that was my first exposure to poetry. It still confuses me that people enjoy the lyrics of people like Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison or Morrissey yet do not enjoy poetry.

I have never read Shakespeare.

People automatically equate poetry with complex works such as Owen and Shakespeare; the kind of writing that many think requires analysis for enjoyment. When I first started this blog, many of my friends took one look at it, read the poetry on it, said to me “That’s nice but it does nothing for me.” and now no longer read it.

Sad, really.

Perhaps some people think that if you to be a certain “type” of person to “get” poetry.

Not so.

Poetry is of course laden with imagery, subtext, forms, tones, ideas, voices and concepts. However some of the best poets, to my mind at least, trancend all of that. Sure, they’re capable of writing works of staggering complexity, but beyond that they have crafted works which can be read by everyone, not just those who have a degree in literature.

Something like Morgan’s The Apple’s Song is fabulously rich in imagery and meaning but also accessible and easy to read to any one.

I owe everything to Morgan. Without him, I wouldn’t be writing poetry.

That is my modus operandi – to create poetry that people who “don’t get” poetry can relate to and to (eventually) bring poetry to people in new ways.

Admittedly the latter is a work in progress, although I’m hoping that some of my ideas about that can come to fruition by the end of the year.

Which leads me to the reason behind this post, what does poetry mean to me? It is about an emotional connection to the world at large, looking at familiar things in new ways and giving voices and personalities to things that do not have them.

Edwin Morgan said “nothing is not giving messages”. There is inspiration in everything – there is never nothing.

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14 thoughts on “Day Two Hundred and Twenty Eight: “Nothing Is Not Giving Messages”

      1. I think I may have made mention of it before. It is certainly my poem of choice if ever a need for a quick burst of prose arises!

  1. The irony that about 2 inches below “there is never nothing” is “As a result I have nothing today.”

    Very admirable, your goal to spread poetry.

  2. “It is about an emotional connection to the world at large, looking at familiar things in new ways and giving voices and personalities to things that do not have them.”

    Why?

    1. I like looking at every day items in different ways, in the hope of offering a new perspective of the mundane, day to day things we use and experience. That’s why it ties into an emotional connection to the world at large; a lot of people just drift by not really paying attention to their surroundings when everything either has a story to tell, or can be given a voice of its own.

      I enjoy that. I find it quite fulfilling to analyse the silly little things we take for granted, and (hopefully) offer a new way of looking at them.

      1. So you want to give people empathy towards objects, then? Alright, but how do you decide what objects deserve empathy?

      2. I really ought to check my comments more often…

        There really is no process to deciding which objects deserve empathy. I guess the closest I can come to answering that question is by saying that inspiration can strike anywhere, at any time. Something which I’ve been keen to point out often on this here blog.

        There is a wee list in my head of things I think might be quite cool to write about, mostly these are old objects which look weather beaten and appear as though they’ve got some kind of history. It’s cool to explore that.

      3. Well, bob8010, I can tell you that he doesn’t take any of MY suggestions for which objects to immortalize! Okay, probably for valid reasons. But that’s a good question.

  3. Mark, I ask because I’m (probably) one of the people that’ve looked at your poetry and said “it’s nice but it does nothing for me,” (unless you mean the poetry of other poets you’ve been posting) and question your assumption that it’s because I think I don’t “get” poetry.

    With your poetry it often strikes me that you’re forcing meaning onto innocuous objects, arbitrarily, rather than identifying meanings that the objects can be symbols for, and that’s why I think it leaves people cold. Like that one the other day; what are you saying? Keys get lost? Why is that relevant? Why do we need a new perspective on keys? I’m not saying we necessarily don’t, but that there’s nothing in the poem that says why we might, so the only thing you can come away with is “Huh, keys DO get lost sometimes.”

    Saying “inspiration can strike anywhere” isn’t much of an answer when you’re being asked to define what you’re trying to do with your work. That’s basically saying “fuck knows, it’s beyond me why I write what I do.”

    1. Daniel, I didn’t just mean my poetry, I meant poetry generally. I have tried, and failed, to ignite the interest of some of my friends in poetry. I should have been cleared with this post. Apologies.

      I’ll admit that the one about the keys is definitely not amongst my best work. Blogging every day, and producing content every day, is a challenge, but even the rubbish poems count as part of the journey.

      As for pushing meaning onto innocuous objects, it’s a criticism you’re perfectly entitled to hold. Many of the objects have a story of their own, and I’m trying to tell that story, whatever that story may be, on my own terms in my own way. It could be bollocks of course, but it’s not like I’m banging these things out in half an a hour. It takes time to imbue them with meaning.

      So I suppose the real issue is that if you’re not seeing that meaning, or think that meaning is somehow false then I’m not doing it correctly. If that’s the case, then perhaps one must step back and approach things differently.

      Inspiration can and DOES strike anywhere. It isn’t much of an answer? Ok then. How’s this – there are stories every where (everything gives the “messages” that Morgan speaks of) and I’m attempting to tell that story in a simple way that any one can relate to. That’s the essence of what I’m trying to do with my work; to tell stories about the every day things we often drift by, and to do so in a way that any one can relate to. Poetry often gets stick for being incomprehensible, too difficult to read, abstract and requires too much “effort” to understand. I’m just trying to show that it’s not that hard. That it can be fun, engaging, light hearted, and ultimately, relateable to those who perhaps have not spent a great deal of time studying literature.

      1. I don’t love everything you write.
        #1, I think that’s probably true of any author I might read.
        #2, I know that a lot of what you put up here is brain dumps, all part of the creative forcing-yourself-to-write-something-every-day challenge that is the oneadayproject. (it’s mind-blowing that you are still doing this!)
        #3, if these were all published works, or even works that you said were complete and you were proud of them, I would be more critical. As it is, I read and quickly forget much of what is here.
        >> All that aside, there are some gems here, some beautiful lyrical wonders like “Snail” (or is it “The Snail”?).
        There is also much to be said for lighter work, possibly in the vein of such luminaries as Ogden Nash, Spike Milligan, and Edward Lear. And I see the possibility of your work with inanimate objects going there. Although… I think I remember the one about trees being quite lovely.

      2. I KNOW it’s a criticism I’m entitled to have. Why say that?

        Stories are everywhere? No they’re not, not until you make them up. Lost keys aren’t a story until you decide they’re a story. That’s the issue with your poetry; I think you have one story, and you’re looking for things and events that you can tell it through. “Inspiration” is when you find things that you can configure to tell that story.

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