Saturday, April 28, 2007

Verse on Worse

Comment is Free on Why there is no reason for no rhyme
Time for a rhyme
The US Academy of Poets sends out a poem a day - but why do none rhyme? Because neither rhyme nor reason excites modern bards, it seems.
April 27, 2007
The American Academy of Poets is just coming to the end of its national poetry month. Richly endowed, the Academy is trying to reintroduce poetry into the American mainstream and one of its chosen weapons is a Poem A Day, emailed to members and those interested.

For disclosure, I should mention I'm a member of the Academy - you get free books! - and during the last election boomed my Anglo-Saxon-style alliterative heroic epic "Bushowulf" down in the Bowery Poets Cafe.

I've clicked on each day for my daily dose of the muse, and became more and more astonished and amazed. Not one poem so far rhymes. In fact a lot of them don't even scan in any significant way, let alone alliterate. I think I see the flaw in the campaign.

Today (April 27) is apparently the 340th anniversary of John Milton getting ten quid for Paradise Lost, which of course was not rhymed either - but it surely has rhythm if you read it aloud.

Call me prejudiced, but while people have a first amendment right to whinge in prose if they want to, I have the right to say it is not poetry when they do so badly.

It can be poetical, but lyric poetry was originally meant to be sung to a lyre, not intoned lugubriously. And one of the points of having rhyme and rhythm is that they make poems memorable as well as musical.

Some of the daily poems are, in fact, not so bad. Others I would happily ditch for the verse in a greeting card, whose makers at least acknowledge that poetry has rules, as well as sentiments.

I recently bought a disk and book of poems to try to keep my three-year old engaged in the car. He loves them, and insists on scrutinizing the pages as the CD plays: but most of all he loves Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," Ogden Nash's "Isabel", and Robert Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening", William Blake's "Tyger", and similar metrical exercises declaimed with feeling.

He insists we fast-forward past the entirely effable effusions of political correctness. I don't see this as a sign of immaturity. On the contrary, it is in the valuable tradition of the little boy questioning the emperor's new clothes.

It is the memorability that has to count for something. I suspect insofar as any of us remember poetry, we are far more likely to remember what George Orwell called a "good bad poet" like Kipling, or Tennyson, or TS Eliot than the more ethereal products of the day.
The original, British, version of "The Office" quotes the civic anthem of its location, John Betjeman's poem:

"Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!
It isn't fit for humans now,
There isn't grass to graze a cow.
Swarm over, Death!

"Come, bombs and blow to smithereens
Those air -conditioned, bright canteens,
Tinned fruit, tinned meat, tinned milk, tinned beans,
Tinned minds, tinned breath."

It's less poetical, but much more memorable than strangely intoned musings on eternity. Indeed, they would be better to remember the lyric in the poetry and put out some Bob Dylan or Lennon and McCartney lyrics, (see, that word again) if they want to persuade people that poetry is indeed already part of our lives and not something tedious to be extraneously injected.

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