Poet in residence

This term's poet in residence

Kei Miller

But I find poetry boring! By Kei Miller
17 Jan 2010 - 05:21 PM

This is not something I thought I was ever allowed to admit - that I find a good deal of poetry insufferably boring! And I'm not just talking about some of the ill-considered doggerel that's out there; I'm talking about poems that everyone else seems to agree is good, and excellent, and the very best. So I worry that if I admit the truth that I don't particularly like Pound or Donne or any number of poets, living or dead, that I really am supposed to like, that my own license will be revoked; that they will think I have no taste, or that I am a fraud.

But it's true, I am afraid; and maybe it is true for all of us. We don't like everything. Also, some poems are only for a season. We grow into one poem as we grow out of another. The wonderful thing is this: there are so many good poets out there, writing eloquently and movingly, and in so many different ways. We don't have to try to like everyone - even those who everyone else says we should like. On my part, I first got hooked to Emily Dickinson, and then that fire grew brighter when I fell in love with a Caribbean poet, Lorna Goodison. And then when I heard W.S. Merwyn reading his poem 'My Friends' (http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15742) and 'After the Alphabet', then it was I had that trembling experience where I thought I was in the presence of greatness, where I loved a poem far more than I could understand it, and experiencing language and rhythm was more important than dissecting it. Who are some of the poets that did that for you?

25 Comments at the moment

Dave Sissons at 20 Jan 2010 - 12:47 PM

Most contemporary poetry certainly is insufferably boring and worse than bad prose. Yet there is a large and vociferous network out there that will have us believe that it really is as good as what it says on the book jackets. I think one major cause of all this is that a lot of people are more interested in the image of 'the poet' and an associated lifestyle than in the words on the page.

Si at 22 Jan 2010 - 08:08 AM

No shame in not getting on with all the heavyweights at all; totally in agreement on that one. I was reading a Robert Browning thing, ‘Any Wife to Any Husband’, (I’m getting married on Monday!) and it was tough going, although I got something out of it in the end. For a time there I felt a bit stupid for not feeling in awe of such a top draw as Browning, but then I wondered why that should be. Is it because I am a burgeoning poet myself and I feel that I should get this stuff with no problem, otherwise I’m some kind of fake? In the end I remembered why it is that I read and write poetry, and the spectre of ego was gone. I also agree with Kai’s comment about ‘feeling’ a powerful work before some kind of quest for meaning seems necessary, and it’s to these types of poems that I usually return. For example, ‘Tho’ Hid in Spiral Myrtle Wreath’, by Coleridge, really hit me the first time I read it. Also I am currently interested in HD, and some of her ‘Sea Garden’ poems particularly stuck me as inspiring, although I can only speculate as to their ‘meaning’. It’s not that I don’t wonder about ‘meaning’ at times, but it’s the power to move, independent of any prosaic style of direct communication, that makes poetry interesting for me. Cheers Kai!

Si at 22 Jan 2010 - 08:11 AM

Woah! Where did all the odd little symbols come from! Try again.... No shame in not getting on with all the heavyweights at all; totally in agreement on that one. I was reading a Robert Browning thing, ‘Any Wife to Any Husband’, (I’m getting married on Monday!) and it was tough going, although I got something out of it in the end. For a time there I felt a bit stupid for not feeling in awe of such a top draw as Browning, but then I wondered why that should be. Is it because I am a burgeoning poet myself and I feel that I should get this stuff with no problem, otherwise I’m some kind of fake? In the end I remembered why it is that I read and write poetry, and the spectre of ego was gone. I also agree with Kai’s comment about ‘feeling’ a powerful work before some kind of quest for meaning seems necessary, and it’s to these types of poems that I usually return. For example, ‘Tho’ Hid in Spiral Myrtle Wreath’, by Coleridge, really hit me the first time I read it. Also I am currently interested in HD, and some of her ‘Sea Garden’ poems particularly stuck me as inspiring, although I can only speculate as to their ‘meaning’. It’s not that I don’t wonder about ‘meaning’ at times, but it’s the power to move, independent of any prosaic style of direct communication, that makes poetry interesting for me. Cheers Kai!

Lucian at 22 Jan 2010 - 11:23 PM

Could you elaborate on what you mean by "insufferably boring"?

Si at 23 Jan 2010 - 05:10 AM

Annoying about the stupid marks on my previous post, but I think I've sussed it. I am also interested in further clarification from Dave here. What kinds of poetry do you like, Dave? Could you give us an example of any contemporary poets that don't bore you? What about women writers? Which female poets do you read and what do you think of Britain's current poet laureate? I'm just curious to get a feel for your taste that's all. How about Kai, have you read any of his stuff? What do you think??

Si at 23 Jan 2010 - 05:18 AM

ooops. Please forgive me! Kei! I am a terrible speller at the best of times......

Lucian at 23 Jan 2010 - 10:40 AM

My question was directed at Kei (not Dave). I did not make myself clear.

Kei at 24 Jan 2010 - 01:27 AM

Dave, Si, and Lucien - thanks for joining the conversation

Kei at 24 Jan 2010 - 01:28 AM

Dave, Si, and Lucien - thanks for joining the conversation

Kei at 24 Jan 2010 - 01:38 AM

Dave, I think I definitely know what you mean. I sometimes get to see work by younger poets who are actually very talented, and could be quite good one day. Some of them are my contemporaries. And it seems we all go through a stage where we want to write Poetry, with a capital P of course; we become very clever with language, very smug with our linebreaks and rhymes, and that's a good thing. For a while. I just think some of us never get quite past that stage, and we're still playing these games with language, but increasingly without anything real to say. I wonder, how do you tell a poet on one hand to stay away from the overly-sentimental, but then after you've mastered some kind of technique, to begin writing from the heart again, because as readers we want to be impressed and moved.

Kei at 24 Jan 2010 - 01:43 AM

Si, Congrats to you on your big day on Monday! I've recently fallen in love with HD again for the strangest of reasons: my neighbour, an Australian poet, has a dog named after HD, and each time I see HD being taken down the road (she's too old to walk by herself) I think to read another poem by her namesake.

Kei at 24 Jan 2010 - 01:49 AM

Lucian, It's a hard question to elaborate on, because I'm talking about something very personal. The important thing is that *I* find some things (as I put it) insufferably boring. So I don't mean to detract from the quality of the work at all. I'm simply allowing myself the privilege these days not to like everything. I think though, that to like a poem we have to be able to find the music in it, and some people's ears are sharper than others. I realize now that there are some poems that my stupid ears just don't know how to hear what's going on, and it's my loss of course. I'm only happy that my ear grows in what it can hear everyday.

Si at 24 Jan 2010 - 02:31 PM

Great image of HD the dog being carried down the road by her owner, and thanks for the congrats. I very much concur with the PPPoetry point that has been made, although I don't come into contact with the work of many young poets, apart from what I can read on line, (I live in China). Of that that I do read though, there are times when it feels like there is a lot of competition to out innovate one's peers and show ones true PPPoetic worth, and this can produce strange artifice that leaves me in a bit of a no man's land. Anyway, enjoy the rest of the conversation; I'd better be off...

andy green at 24 Jan 2010 - 06:57 PM

Hi kei- to get back at the point you make on the 24th- ie- how do you tell a poet to stay away from the overly-sentimental and stop playing games wth langauge etc- well I think the simple answer is that you cant. Theres an important and fertile apprenticeship of embarresment where we have to wade down through layers of muddy ego before we can reach through to a clearer sounding language and landscape. I recently heard a great quote by Aubrey Williams in an exhibition in Liverpool where he says he realised he was in danger of just making paintings rather than telling the story. Aren't we always positioned between two dangers; the danger of having no craft and the danger of craft alone?

Dave Sissons at 25 Jan 2010 - 12:17 PM

In answer to Si on 23 January, I rate the following 'contemporary' poets very highly: Ursula Fanthorpe, Charles Causley, Vernon Scannell, John Heath Stubbs, Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Tony Harrison, Sylvia Plath and Bob Dylan. Unfortunately only two of those are still alive. I can think of no-one born after 1945 who has written anything of much interest.Of course I like lots of poets born before 1910. I'm surprised that anyone thinks the laureateship is something to aspire to - especially with its Royal connection - and I don't think much of Carol Ann Duffy's work, nor of one of the laureate contenders, Simon Armitage, both of who seem to me to be grossly over-rated. Generally speaking I'm all for experiment and free verse, but I don't think it's had a great success rate in the last hundred years. A lot of contemporary poems are like first drafts.

Dave Sissons at 25 Jan 2010 - 12:25 PM

Sorry - three of the poets in my list are still alive!

Lucian at 28 Jan 2010 - 05:51 PM

Kei, thanks for the clarification. I understand it is difficult to put these things into words but I feel I can read between the lines. Perhaps it is easier for me to understand because I have been at all ends of the spectrum.

Si at 29 Jan 2010 - 03:04 AM

Hi Dave. Thanks for your reply on that one. All of the poets that you mention are poets that I respect and some of them I have found most inspiring, particularly Dylan, Plath and Tony Harrison. I do respect Carol Ann Duffy's stuff though, and I think she is perfect for the post that she now holds. What the Laureateship does is bring poetry to an audience that may otherwise shy away from it, and I think that this is what it is now really for. Too many people are put off by poetry because they think that it is irrelevant to their lives. I think Carol Ann may help change this perception for some people. One of my great poet heroes is Selima Hill. I like this interview with her ( http://www.e-scoala.ro/lidiavianu/poets_selima_hill.html)because she doesn't care about the agenda that the interviewer is trying to foist upon her. She is right when she says that there is room for us all, even 'performance poets' ;)- only kidding guys! What is important is that good poets are honest, intelligent and show some respect for the craft. Of course, just how to define 'craft' is what causes all the 'lively debate' in the first place, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I think Carol Ann Dufy has shown that she has all of the abovementioned qualities during the course of her career, and I think her willingness to address issues is resonant with a lot of people.

Dave Sissons at 30 Jan 2010 - 12:53 PM

In answer to Si (29/01/10), the 361st anniversary of the abolition of the institution of monarchy in the UK seems a fitting day to talk about the Poet Laureate. The latter is appointed by the Crown, and it is the Crown that benefits more than the poetry. Some of us in the so-called UK regret that the institution of monarchy was restored in 1660, as it symbolises little more than elitism and class division. We aren't talking about personalities - it is theoretically possible that some members of the Royal Family might be interesting people. But we find the Queen's Speech, when she talks about 'my government', an annual insult to the electorate that has chosen the government. Why Carol Ann Duffy wants to identify herself with an institution which perpetuates the practice of primogeniture - based on the first-born male - is a mystery to me. As for the laureateship being good for poetry, where's the evidence? Poets Laureate usually write their worst poetry after appointment. Is it a good idea to broadcast it? Ted Hughes, it is true, wrote a good collection of comic verse when he was Laureate - Rain Charm for the Duchy - but unfortunately he intended it to be serious. On a different subject, Selima Hill's 'anything goes' comment is typical of the age. Are there such things as good poems and bad poems, or is it all relative? I don't agree with Kingsley Amis about much, but I do agree with him when he says that 'self-expression' is not a good idea when the self turns out to be as boring as it usually does.

Lucian at 13 Feb 2010 - 09:31 PM

"As for the laureateship being good for poetry, where's the evidence?" Well, there is the Poetry Archive which we are posting on now. It would not exist were it not for Andrew Motion's laureateship. With almost 150,000 unique visitors every month (and every month they read and listen to a million pages of poetry) it would be difficult for me to argue that it is bad for poetry.

Dave Sissons at 15 Feb 2010 - 05:36 PM

Wow! 150,000 visitors every month, all apparently reading a million pages of poetry! I think Bob Dylan said in an interview in 1965, 'Statistics measure quantity, not quality'. I don't think we should be playing this game of statistics, so beloved of politicians, corporate managers, marketing professionals and the like. Anyway there are loads of poetry websites that function without the kiss of death of the British Monarchy. I recommend for starters the Bow-Wow Shop: www.bowwowshop.org.uk I'm sure Andrew Motion would have set up something whether or not he had accepted the laureateship. I'm using this site because it happens to be on the website of my library service. Incidentally I hope Laureate-lovers have read Tony Harrison's Laureate poems, not to mention seventeenth century John Wilmot's poem which begins, 'In the Isle of Britain, long since famous grown...'.

Stefan at 15 Feb 2010 - 06:46 PM

Dave, you're entitled to your views about the Laureateship, but I'd be surprised if you could find a way to fund something like this website without 'playing the game of statistics'. Funders not unreasonably require evidence that the projects they pay for are actually reaching people!!

Lucian at 15 Feb 2010 - 10:28 PM

I do not think Bob Dylan would have replied in that way. He is a man of insight.

Dave Sissons at 16 Feb 2010 - 10:20 AM

In reply to Lucian, I may have got the date slightly wrong - it was published in 'Playboy' magazine in February 1966. Dylan's full reply to a question was: 'Statistics measure quantity, not quality. The people in the statistics are people who are very bored. Art, if there is such a thing, is in the bathrooms; everybody knows that. To go to an art gallery thing where you get free milk and doughnuts and where there is a rock-'n'-roll band playing: That's just a status affair. I'm not putting it down, mind you; but I spend a lot of time in the bathroom. I think museums are vulgar. They're all against sex. Anyhow, I didn't say that people "hang out" on the radio, I said they get "hung up" on the radio.'

Si at 17 Mar 2010 - 04:22 PM

Hey Dave, have you seen the poem CAD has written on David Beckham and his injury? Opinion is divided, but I'm personally wondering what the hell it's for. It's interesting and a little witty; just a little.....and it reads well, but I am beginning to sense that she certainly has a sense of herself in amoungst all this luareatte stuff. She's a champion for something I reckon, but what I'm not so sure. Still, she's not afraid to get on with the writing; that has to be said.

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