Towards Better Democracy

Good words, well written, better the world. Good literature betters the world immeasurably.


Poetry is not dead as Poetry Slams show. Poetry is relevant. Poetry is now, as I hope my poems show. Young people have taken up the torch. One wishes that those who write and attend Poetry Slams will stay with poetry as they grow older and verse themselves in the great heritage of this art.

Poetry is not the preserve of those who have gone to University, and have studied literature. Poetry is for everyone. Such people make poetry appear difficult as any so called expert will. Criticism of poetry is not poetry. Poetry is not difficult.

We can enjoy a film without reading criticism of that film. In fact, reading the critic may take away from

For a poem to have impact on us, we do not need to know how the poem achieves that impact. We do not need to know all the illusions, metaphors, what its metrics are. The great value of poetry over prose is that poems reach us at a level that prose cannot. Prose is literal in the sense that the meaning is on the page. This is not true of poetry. Poetry speaks to a deeper level. Metaphors reach our subconscious. That is in part why we don’t need to be aware of them. Likewise the rhythm and the rime. Like music, its closest relative, poetry reaches an inner self. Which is why it enriches us.

And reading poetry is much like listening to music. None of us likes all music. We like this and don’t like that. So it is with poetry. This poem or that might be judged by those who set themselves up to decide such things to be a poor poem or an outstanding example of the genre. At any point in time there is a greater volume of bad poetry than good. The good tends to survive over the bad.

Poetry existed before literacy and some of this survives as memory written onto the page.

For those, then, who wish to develop their taste for poetry, they can delve into its past and be assured that they will read the best of what was then written.

Such a pursuit is not for everyone. Each of us has a taste for knowing the origins of some aspect of life that we enjoy, be it old cars, history, gardens, and so on. But this is not necessary. If one enjoys detective novels, we do not need to discover the origins of the who-dunnit unless we wish. There is available to us a lifetime of reading such books without stepping out of our own time.

But, for those us who wish to, poetry has a rich and deep past going all the way back to Homer,

or the great poets of the deep past of China,

of the Middle East,

or Northern Germany, of the Norsemen.

Poetry is finally for and of the people. Poetry is as natural to us as is song and painting, a vital expression of who and what we are.

As a reader of poetry I hope that readers will develop a taste for poetry and learn by heart some favourites as I have done. So that a few or poems live within them and enrich their lives in a way that only poetry can do.

Let me cite two of the many that I have memorized that stand out.

“Submarine” Ruth Miller, page 197

“Luís de Camõs” Roy Campbell

Both poets are South African.

The density of Miller’s poem is an object lesson to all of us who aspire to write poetry; to compress so much meaning and resonances with the confines of a short work. To say more with less. Of course she refers to the past for to forget the past is to render us helpless.

Roy Campbell is a controversial figure within the world of poetry and I have a distaste for much of the man and his beliefs and behaviours. Nevertheless, I have to recognize that as a poet he wrote some fine work.

In “Luís de Camõs” he refers to our past in celebrating the great Portuguese poet, ignored in his lifetime, yet his “The Lusiads” (Os Lusíadas) comes in time to be celebrated as the great national Portuguese epic . The URL is fitting in that we are connected to a Portuguese translation of Campbell’s poem. Poetry needs to be translated across as many languages as possible since each poem says something unique not restricted to the language in which it is written.

The final lines of Campbell’s poem show exactly how a poem can impact us greatly and add meaning to our lives.

E as dores moldou em formas de beleza, (Wrestled his hardships into forms of beauty,)
Como à Gorgona fez cantar destinos. (And taught his Gordon destinies to sing.)

We can despair as to what place poetry can have in the greater scheme of life. Poetry is not valued by critics. But so what. We live in this time and the poetry we read and write is of our time, speaks to us, tells of our concerns, our preoccupations. These are not of another age.

The achievements of High Modernism make unlikely that there will ever again poets and poetry which is venerated to the extent that poetry was during that period, 1920’s up to the beginning of WWII, 1939. Poetry has become a minor art and no poet in our time, the present writing, is acclaimed as were many of those.

One can name a few but T S Eliot, with “The Waste Lands” is as good an example as any.

Perhaps this situation of the present age of minor poets will change with time. There is no knowing. Poetry, like every other aspect of human life, undergoes cycles and we live in less than a Silver Age, never mind Golden.

But it doesn’t matter. Our poetry, the poetry of our time, belongs to us, all of us.

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