Poetry matters

I’m not a poetry kind of guy. I don’t curl up with a book of verses to lose myself, or quote passages to fellow aficionados. Poetry I find over-stimulating in a way that’s different from prose. For me the discipline is like solving cryptic crosswords or puzzling out brain teasers: it requires effort from what seems a specific part of the brain and, to be honest, I’m quite lazy.

Not that I’m poetically bankrupt. I appreciate a good turn of phrase, a mind-blowing metaphor, a piquant simile or log-jams of alliteration. I use them — you may have noticed — all the time in posts. It’s just that to put all that into a bag marked Poetry is somehow … just not my bag. It may be to do with it seeming pretentious. Or possibly trite. It could be that I’m put off with all the white space around carefully formatted stanzas. And certainly volumes of verse epics strike me as expeditionary excursions to be avoided.

Thus I’m embarrassed to say that I find myself to be conflicted, even compromised. Because, my dear readers, I write poetry.

I started with miniatures. Haiku, senryu, limericks — that sort of thing. I sneaked them into a new blog I entitled Zenrinji, a Japanese name roughly translating as Temple in the Calm Grove and so entirely apt for the present writer attempting to compose haiku. Next I started including flash fiction, usually around 100-200 words, which I fondly imagined could approach something like prose poetry.

And then recently I signed up to a creative writing course on writing and appreciating poetry, which required regular homework on set themes, forms or genres, all inspired by short form poetry published by established poets. Needless to say, some of these have found their way onto Zenrinji posts, and I’m rather pleased with a handful of them.

‘I Hunted Dragons Once’ is based on a piece by the late Seamus Heaney, but while his exemplar was based on childhood memories in rural Ireland, mine was set in urban Hong Kong. We were then introduced (via Dylan Thomas’ famous ‘Do not go gentle’) to the stricter forms of the villanelle, and I managed two of my own, both linked thematically to Spring: ‘When Winter’s Snow At Last’ and the more intricate ‘Welcome spring’s on its way’.

We were asked to compose a piece using repeating rhythms and/or rhymes; I responded with an angry piece ‘You’re having a laugh’ which largely sums up my political views on current events. Finally for this post, but not last for this sequence, comes a poem based on a personal experience: ‘He lay there’ was the one I found hardest to craft, constantly tinkering with it even though the initial ideas and phrases came quickly enough.

I’ve confessed myself lazy; I suggested poetry could be trite or pretentious; and yet I show myself to be a bit of a hypocrite by actually writing the darn thing myself. What is this quintessence of dust? A blogger? Or just a blagger?

If you too term yourself a poet then set to: write a note and show it!

43 thoughts on “Poetry matters

  1. Better to be pretentious
    than sententious or tendentious or
    God help us, licentious
    and trite can be quite
    a delight, if polite
    the world and his mother
    knows poems by another
    can’t hope to shine
    with the lustre of mine.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The burnished lustre
      Of your verse just here
      Proves better than my bluster
      Though thankfully not lustier.
      And if I may assert
      In relation to your verse
      Your stanza as it stands, Gert,
      Seems to be no worse
      Than any poems of mine
      Come rain or come shine…


      Liked by 1 person

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  3. piotrek

    Oh, wow, congratulations! I really like “I Hunted Dragons Once”, it resonates with me. And so does “He lay there”…

    I’ve only ever written one poem, at the age of six, when I had to find a last-minute present for my sister on her birthday. It was actually published (in a magazine for kids, but I really was six…), so maybe I should have continued 😉

    I often feel I should appreciate poetry more, and that I don’t understand it enough. It’s such a condensed, powerful medium! I’m also lucky as it’s a rare case where being Polish is not a handicap, we do have the likes of Milosz and (Zbigniew) Herbert 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much, Piotr, I’m so pleased you found these of worth. ‘He lay there’ was a memory of my father who died at the too young age of 51, only a couple of months after his first grandchild. I’d like to think time will have made relationships easier, but one never truly knows.

      I agree poetry can be so condensed as to be inpentetrable at times, but like all literature there’s always a level one can start at — it’s just finding that level. As I’m finding out, there’s nothing like joining a class on writing poetry to get one properly started, even though I have obviously made stabs at it in the past.

      I had to look up Czesław Miłosz and Zbigniew Herbert, and I see that they had a falling out in Berkeley. At least it’s good to know when you and Ola bicker it’s totally good-humoured and doesn’t end in longterm acrimony! 🙂


  4. piotrek

    It’s also so personal, even the poems one loves, let alone writes. A novel about some dude having adventures is one thing, but a few verses on what matters most – that’s brave!

    Herbert/Miłosz (I appreciate you using the “ł” :)!) quarrel was epic, and could be seen as a metaphor of our internal divisions. But they did made up in the end, so perhaps there is still hope 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose the bravery comes with feeling exposed but doing it anyway; but as much poetry which shares inner emotions appears to evoke empathic feelings in readers/listeners it’s probably a mode of mutual partaking of experiences, do you think?

      As for the ‘ł’s I admit that having noticed them I cheated by just copying and pasting Czesław and Miłosz — it’s all my mobile phone allows where non-English characters are concerned! Anyway, glad they patched up their differences: I subscribe, though it pains me to admit it, to the thought behind the question “Would you rather be right or be happy?” I think happiness is usually the better option when friendships are under scrutiny!

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Good old Aristotle! This is true enough, but as in most political ‘discourse’ (much of it about hurling insults and manufacturing fake facts) where does truth lie? 🙂 For the sake of peace sometimes it’s possible to agree to disagree, but that isn’t always an option, is it?


  5. I really enjoyed your poems, Chris. I hope to attempt a villanelle at some point myself but find it rather daunting.

    Though poetry has come to seem a rarefied and perhaps pretentious pursuit, I think we should remember that all language came from a poetic sensibility, from the amazing notion that one isolated thing can point to and be related to another. When we unlock the playful potential of words, we’re recovering our own power to create imaginative connections, rather than just stick with the ones we’ve been given. I think it’s wonderful whenever and however that happens.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Lory, you’re very kind to say that. It’s quite hard working with classical forms — freer versification can allow more authentic feelings fuller rein — but it’s a good discipline to submit to formal structure in order to choose apt words, phrases, rhythms and rhymes to express oneself.

      Strangely, I found the villanelles not as hard as I thought they might be, even managing two in quick succession! I don’t think you’d have any problems once you’d started as you have a precise way with words, in fact I suspect ‘Le Mot Juste’ are your middle names! This week I have to work on a sonnet, though I have yet to decide on a Shakespearean or Petrarchian rhyming scheme.

      I totally agree with you when you say language develops hand in hand with poetic sensitivity. Most of our abstract thinking arises from using metaphors: when I write “language develops hand in hand” I’m assuming language is an organic entity which happens to have appendages along with poetic sensibility. Without metaphorical language we’d be largely reduced to grunts and gestures, would we not? 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Oh I am in no way shape or form a poet. Any time in school, be it elementary, secondary, college, graduate–nope. Sucked. Well, you know that, you read my bit on it. So I’m just thankful to have at least two poets I can read AND appreciate. Writing it? nnnnnnno. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We all have strengths, don’t we, but sometimes we’re not aware of strengths until we try them out, and then the time may not be right. As you’re a writer, Jean, you may well be a poet whose time has not yet come! Nil desperandum.

      Interesting how these things affect different people in different ways. You’re a musician (or at least appreciative of music, as your posts on film music confirm) so you’ll understand me when I say that language is akin to music, and that I can especially see the similarities when it comes to listening, playing and composing in either discipline.

      But perhaps this is a theme I can explore in a post? Hmmm…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, please do!
        I did actually spend some years in music: a few on clarinet, a few on violin, and 14 years on piano. Then I made the very foolish decision to change over to organ. I still regret it.
        Perhaps you are right, and my time is still on the approach. I hope so. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I have to say until this writing course forced me (I was quite willing, actually) to compose villanelles and sonnets I wouldn’t ever have been tempted to attempt. Perhaps all we need is a metaphorical spur to cajole us into action!

          Liked by 1 person

            1. Ha! Myself, I’ve never seen adult education classes as school because I’ve nearly always gone to them voluntarily (unlike the compulsory schooling of my youth). Tasks set have almost without exception been mentally stimulating or, if not particularly so, I’ve always tried to put an individual spin on them by being creative or reinterpretating them. And the last time I sat at a school desk was when I was myself a schoolteacher! But that’s another story…

              However, I do feel your pain. 😊

              Liked by 1 person

  7. I appreciate your transparency, nothing to be ashamed of, for reading poetry is different to writing it. (I have to read your poems, and I will surely come back to comment more.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I had one time in my life when a few poems both in Spanish and English, came to me. After that, nothing else. I have a few short stories written, some memories not published, and two translated published books plus a self published short essay on homeschooling. But no, I’m not a poet, I simply read poetry.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think one must have a poetic spirit to appreciate poetry, Silvia! and of course any artistic genre (music, sculpture, drama, literature) is about communication, give and take, creators and audience.


  8. Chris. I am moved and joyous, what a bunch of varied and fascinating poems. The Dragons one is my favorite, and I so loved to read both poem and prose. The last two are so poignant. And the 2 on nature, what a homage to not just the nature they highlight, but to language. Don’t stop writing poetry. I am now following your other blogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Silvia, that’s so kind of you to say all that, and thanks too for following those other blogs. I’ve scheduled a sonnet a couple of days from now and I hope you’ll like that too!


      1. I also appreciate a lot your little explanations on the poems. From the collection I am reading, I have come to love the introduction to the group of poems by topic done by the editor.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This business of ‘explaining’ poems is an odd one, because you’d hope they’d stand up on their own merits; and I also worry that explanations can mask impure boasting (along the lines of ‘Look how clever I am!’). I suppose I prefer to see them as contextualising each poem, the better to appreciate their intent and import. 😊


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