Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
It's government-approved National Poetry Day. Below this rant are two pieces which I prepared earlier. I started doing poetry because all my heroes were dead and no-one modern ( with one or two noble exceptions, such as my learned colleague Johnny Clarke) was writing anything any good. Academia, especially the two big places, had hi-jacked poetry and turned it into this rather precious angst parade, where technique ruled over content. Most academics write absolutely rubbish poetry. In fact, if you want to be a decent poet, the best thing you can possibly do is stay away from Uni, because they really do know f*** all about it. TS Eliot has just been voted best poet. I don't know who counted the votes, probably that fat drunk bird on a unicycle who I'm always going on about.. It's true that he was pretty good. But then he wrote The Wasteland. This was the literary equivalent of notching up a great score in a game of bar billiards, then blowing your entire tally by knocking the big mushroom down with the red ball. The Wasteland really is a dreadful piece of work. It's not helped by the fact that the execrable Ezra Pound got his clammy little hands on it, either.
I myself, rarely attend poetry events, unless I'm actually performing, because they're usually so boring, embarrassing and badly performed. Poetry, which I love and still read an awful lot of, is an open forum for tossers, nutters, chancers and people who should really be re-training as TV repairmen or bookshop assistants. Most of them can't even manage a simple 4/4 quatrain with a snappy payoff. Their metaphors and similes are so overworked that they disappear into the ether. Inexplicably, there seems to be a universal fear of rhyming, almost as if it's regarded as cheating.. Most of the public haven't got a clue what poetry's about, they stampede like wildebeeste whenever they hear the word 'poetry' mentioned. Quite understandably, when they're actually consulted, the public will vote Kipling's 100 year old poem "If" as being better than anything that may have come since. This infuriates the concerned classes, who simply won't comprehend, that their fellow countrymen can be so wilfully philistine. The situation hasn't changed in the whole 20 years that I've been writing and performing poetry.
How did I make a living doing this? Easy. Hardly anyone else wants to rhyme, scan or say anything lucid. The day I set up my shop with the words above the door saying, M. Newell -- Wordsmith, I was in business. If a customer comes along, I say. " A poem? Yes sir / madam. How long would you like it? What sort of atmosphere should it have? When would you like it to stop.? Shall I make it rhyme? What time would you like it by? " This is a service industry. I'm still in business. It's an honour to be able to have such a great occupation. It never occurred to me to go to the Arts Council. The last thing you want is people with a 2.2 in Televisual Studies from Gala Pie (used to be a shit Poly) Pretend University judging whether your 'work' is fit for a bit of wonga, so that it can eventually lie dying in the dullest corners of the dullest bookshops. You don't want the laurels, do you? You wanna get paid. You don't want some crummy publishing deal from Fabber with 7 to 10 percent of zilcho sales and a few quails eggs at a literary lunch. You wanna run round after the gig shouting "Albatross!" sign all the books, get in the motor and bugger off home, don't you? Here. I'll tell you who I had in the back of my cabriolet the other day. Only that bleedin' Arthur Rimbaud, that's who . Couldn't make head nor tail of his work. Became a gun-runner in the end, I'm told. Har har, well bloody crucial. Now read on.
In Praise of Poetry
Poetry is no less than this:
An unexpected workplace kiss
The brandy in the spirit cage
A salve upon our wounded age
That lustful swell, the secret damp
The yellow of the attic lamp
The drifting, smoky, hazel haze
Of wooded hills on autumn days
Between the thoughts of summer lost
And anvil of the winter frost
The horse returning to the door
Of empty stables after war
Riderless, uncertain now
Past the harrow and its plough
Plodding up the pitted track
Battered saddle on his back
Poetry: Rentboy of the arts
Loitering with the other tarts
Knowing far more than it should
Much too much for its own good
Bitching, blurting, doing deals
Selling out for drinks and meals
Jumping on the latest trends
Disappointing loyal friends
Eye on clock and thumb on scales
Marrying for cash and sales
You wouldn't trust him in your car
And definitely not, a bar.
The poet though, is alchemist
A snake-oil salesman, pharmacist
A mojo merchant trawling town
The painter put his dust-sheet down
In case your old horizons run
Before he touches up the sun
Recalling feelings you may not
Evoking those that you forgot
Giving voice to words unsaid
The godless freefall in your head
The things you never knew, yet miss.
Poetry is no less than this.
The State Of Poetry
Poets? Find me one of those.
Not some mush with a blocked-up nose
Boring us with chopped-up prose
That's not even lucid
Lion and Uni fighting for renown
Page v Stage in a one-course town
Naked emperor, paper crown
State of poetry? Luvly
Is it relevant or fair
Who's appointed Poetry Chair?
Locked in the Bodleian Library there
Do we care? Not really.
Here's your ranter in his rags
Foul of mouth on beer and fags
"Where's my dosh, you Oxbridge slags?"
Poetry? Ah yes, poetry.
Scansion though? All too much fuss
You wait two hours for an iambus
Five arrive once. Discuss.
"O Captain − my Captain!"
Po-faced poets in Clark Kent glasses
Sixteen questions right −no passes.
Hooray for the oil-drizzling classes!
Poets win prizes. Stupid bastards.
Brought the art form to its knees
Chips on shoulders? Ooh, yes please
Can I have that twice − with peas?
When I've signed with Faber?
Arts Board sat like a mean old aunt
Pile of forms for a piddling grant
Write you may, but rhyme you can't
Going to the ball, doll? You shan't.
A member of the public enjoying poetry, recently.