Art and beauty, humour, music

What’s Wrong with Poetry?

Dec. 1996

rick_mugI like poetry. But only as a participation sport. Baseball is the same way, enjoyable almost only when you are at the plate.

I’ve tried to enjoy reading poetry, listening to poetry, even speaking poetry aloud. Pitiful. It’s almost always a letdown.

One authority said that poetry “involves a precise choice of words that will have implications and suggestions that go past the words themselves”. OK. I like an intellectual challenge.

One authority went on to say that through poetry you “experience the radiance, the epiphany … a showing through of the essence.” Shake your head! Typical poetic hyperbole.

Now, poetry put to music is a far, far richer soup. Recall Patti Smith’s Horses. I love Van Morisson’s Rave on, John Donne. Neil Young is a genius people’s poet, better, in my mind, than Bob Dylan who is too often self-indulgently cryptic. Dylan’s best song is Hurricane which, for a welcome change, he delivers with a sledgehammer. Lately? I was impressed with Sheryl Crow’s debut.

Best singer-poet? I guess it would be the “eternal hipster” Leonard Cohen. When he gets it right, it’s really, really right. Though even his poetry pales on the page compared with disc.

And Cohen is an honest poet. He said that his songs really have no meaning for most people; but they have an effect on many, “like putting an icecube in scotch”.

The reputation and significance of poetry is far over-rated. Let me be clear. The emperor has no clothes. (And don’t get me started on classical music.)

Rave On, John Donne
– Van Morrison

Rave on John Donne, rave on thy Holy fool
Down through the weeks of ages
In the moss borne dark dank pools

Rave on, down through the industrial revolution
Empiricism, atomic and nuclear age
Rave on down through time and space, down through the corridors
Rave on words on printed page

Rave on, you leftist infinity
And well pressed pages torn to fade
Drive on with wild abandon
Uptempo, frenzied heels

Rave on, Walt Whitman, nose down in wet grass
Rave on fill the senses
On nature’s bright green shady path

Rave on Omar Khayyam, Rave on Kahlil Gibran
Oh, what sweet wine we drinketh
The celebration will be held
We will partake the wine and break the Holy bread

Rave on let a man come out of Ireland
Rave on on Mr. Yeats,
Rave on down through the Holy Rosey Cross
Rave on down through theosophy, and the Golden Dawn
Rave on through the writing of “A Vision”
Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on, Rave on

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