Are you a poet? Are you a page poet? Are you a spoken word artist? Are you a stand up poet? Are you a literary theatre practitioner? Are you an MC? Are you serious!? Political? Confessional? Observational? Comedic? Do you set fire to turnips and spell out haikus by using them as fire poi? Does it matter?
If someone is presenting their work to me, the format is irrelevant; the only question I ask myself is a subjective one: “Do I think this is any good?”
Simple, I make my decision and get on with my life.
Do you like music?
Don’t worry, nobody has scooped out my skull with a spork and replaced its contents with pig snot. I’m aware that this is a stupid question. The ambits of music are so widespread that if you professed to like it all you’d have to be about as discerning as a stepped on jellyfish.
If, however, I were to ask you if you liked poetry, as patrons of a poetry blog you might be more eager to say something like “Yes, yes I do, in fact poetry is the fire in my heart and the ink in my soul”. You might say something like that, and I’d definitely get where you were coming from, but I’d probably sup up and make my excuses.
The thing is, poetry is so diverse that even the most astute academic would struggle to define its parameters. When it comes to what does or doesn’t constitute poetry I’m certainly not the man to ask. I’m a genuine lover of loads of stuff that professes to be poetry, yet I honestly couldn’t give a toss whether it actually is or not.
When people ask me what I do for a living, I do what any self aware scribbler does. I shuffle awkwardly before inelegantly stumbling around a muddle of oblique statements that don’t include the word poet.
The truth is, I write words and then attempt to perform them.
Not often, but sometimes, by flourishing my words with an element of entertainment I can be made to feel as though I’d performed in the buff with a dog turd swastika smeared across my forehead. Equally at some events, the swaggering egos of performers can miss the phenomenal lyricism and intricate delicacy of less performative poets, berating them for their lack of energy. This kind of snobbery and separatism makes us all look ridiculous. It’s the audience’s prerogative to decide what they like; we’re just there to do a job.
As writers we all at some point have the epiphany that our work doesn’t have to fit into some predetermined category. That’s when we truly find our voice.
So it isn’t the aforementioned labels I really have a problem with. Without them promoters would struggle to describe what it is they’ve actually programmed. My exasperation lies within the way these ambiguous epithets are used as ammunition amongst the poetry community to unnecessarily malign each other.
As writers we should be focusing on pushing the limits of our own unique abilities. The idealist in me wishes we could congratulate people outside of our little cliques for their successes. The cynic in me will always enjoy taking the piss out of something I find a bit daft; but I do that sparingly, because every time it happens it takes me further away from the person I aspire to be.
Attempting to define the indefinable by bickering amongst ourselves will only make us look like knob heads. Of course we’re all entitled to express an opinion about what we do and don’t enjoy; but arguing about whether something is or isn’t poetry just seems like a waste of valuable heartbeats.
I’ve already outed myself as a performer, but this isn’t partisanship. My favourite book is a book of poetry, it’s called Crow, and it’s by Ted Hughes. My favourite poem is Not the Furniture Game by Simon Armitage. Having said that, I equally enjoy sitting in an audience and watching Tim Clare or Kate Tempest or a raft of other brilliant performers do their thing
I’m currently reading Gunter Grass, he’s bloody awesome, and he said this:
“People have always told tales. Long before humanity learned to write and gradually became literate, everybody told tales to everybody else and everybody listened to everybody else’s tales. Before long it became clear that some of the still illiterate storytellers told more and better tales than others, that is, they could make more people believe their lies.”
I suppose my point is that if writers and orators spent more time making their lies more interesting and their truths more exhilarating their would be less time to waste picking at each others. This has to be true of all of us, myself included…