Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Understood

Do you remember when all pages of the internet looked like this: http://www.heelstone.com/meridian/uptontheory/restless.htm – and that’s a snazzy example of what it used to look like. In a short time the moneymoney has turned the internet into a slicker marketing beast. Yesterday I saw an old photograph of an Argentinian street from the early Twentieth Century; I took particular notice of what looked like a post box, with words quite literally all over it. All available space had been covered with logos (before they were called logos, I suppose) and slogans (before… yeah yeah). It looked like a bin. The internet is that post box. That empty post box, covered with stuff.

I digress. Please read what Lawrence Upton has written in the above link. I think it was written in 1999. It talks about why we might publish the work of another, in this lovely phrase: “I was guided by the pleasure I took in the work. I had what might be called a gut reaction to it and that was why it was published.” That’s honest, isn’t it. I publish it because I liked it. I may not have fully comprehended it on first reading, but I liked it. Having read The Athemata recently, it chimes with something T.S. Eliot wrote in the introduction, which may be an alternate version from the more famous one – in it (I’m paraphrasing) he says that poetry can please / entertain before it is understood. I wonder how much poetry I read yesterday that I understood utterly completely, and yet give me no entertainment or pleasure.

I am reminded of something Neil Curry said at a Poetry Symposium: ‘I like to make things up’ (he goes further in a piece here: https://londongrip.co.uk/2018/10/my-pen-my-selfie-stick/ – a piece that I am thinking about and am very glad of the opportunity to think, and not entirely sure I agree with everything, but it is good to think – and it is brilliant and essential to have your thought challenged…). We like to make things up, don’t we? Annie Foster gave a brilliant workshop that I was at this week (a real privilege) in which she talked about Emily Bronte and play. I know that sounds like a terrible article from a terrible literary journal but I don’t mean ‘Bronte and Play: Polysyllabic Haunting Praxis in the Discourse of Joseph‘, I mean: Emily Bronte and play. She liked to make things up. To play. As Annie Foster pointed out, on a trip to Scarborough that took hours Bronte (in her twenties, I think) wanted to play with her sister: to make things up.

Anyway, the death of Sean Bonney has once more had me reading things from the British Poetry Revival and wondering about the twists and turns of poetry in this country: the winners, the losers; the funded, the unfunded; the established, the emerging; the dead and the living. Most poetry from any age is turgid. No, it really is. Most music is. Most art is. It is. And what little isn’t is subject to your own preference: whether you like it or not. I like Lawrence Upton’s final words in he article – have a look.

I enjoyed reading that Kingdomland made it into a Guardian ‘best poetry of 2019’ list (here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/nov/30/best-poetry-of-2019). I like that I was recommended to read it by a poet. I like it. I mean it’s disturbing and horrible… but I like it, as poems. And stuff is made up. (Interesting how much else of that ‘best of’ is also ‘made up stuff’…) Perhaps to put it another way, stuff is made up from the real world that exists. Kingdomland is a perfect exposition of patriarchy and power; read it, if you haven’t (you probably have, I realise). It has adapted the way I think about a few things. It isn’t about being understood. Or rather, it isn’t about ‘understanding’ the poet. We (people) aren’t here to be understood. It’s about an understanding that transcends that – something more human than any other art form can provide. That understanding is best provided by ‘experiment’ (oh – sorry Lawrence); let’s use Lawrence Upton’s word: that understanding is best conveyed by ‘restless poetry’.


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