Poetic Misunderstandings

Here's my understanding of what's happened so far in the series of small conversations about poetry on this show. (So far, there have been two on-air conversations, plus a couple of off-air ones.) The participants to date are: Shelagh , me (Tom), John Steffler the poet laureate, and political candidates Elizabeth May, Tom King, Peter McKay, and Bob Rae.

1) Our first encounter was an admission. Poetry? I said, Never read the stuff.
(This was almost true. Explanation to follow.)


2) The second encounter was an argument. I said that poetry requires a special kind of reader. Without a poetic orientation, one can only superficially read poems.

For evidence, I borrowed the poet laureate, John Steffler. John wrote just one 'parliamentary' poem during his tenure in Ottawa. It's a complaint - and a wish. He teases politicians about how prosaic they are, and offers a bit of hope for them. When the (fictional) prime minister - who gets fooled and ridiculed by his own rebellious tongue - finally becomes a poetic person, it's a happy ending to the poem. Becoming poetic is a worthwhile journey, says the poem, one that politicians should take time for. That's why, after talking to John Steffler, I bugged a handful of politicians to show off their poetic side. They gamely co-operated (it's election time, after all), and it helped me to imagine what would happen to public debate if poetry was treated with a greater sense of indulgence in our culture.

At least, that's what I thought we were talking about. But one colleague told me she didn't hear that line of thinking at all, so was mystified when I went on to boast about all the neat allusions I'd made to the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem framed by a gormless narrator who is turned into a 'sadder and a wiser man' by a confrontation with a poem. But that's the problem with trying to be poetic - even close friends miss your point. And by the time one tries to explain it prosaically, the magic is gone.

With this problem in mind, I'm venturing into the world of Canadian avant-garde poets. I figure they'll sympathize.

Yours, with a vague gesture towards clarity,


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