Subscribe by RSS

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Ball game III

Reading poetry always makes me feel like I'm watching Zinedine Zidane in his prime. Even in the slow motion replays, I can't see how he did it.

It's frustrating. Prose flows freely from my fingers. But I couldn't write a good poem if you promised me endless wealth and nubile women for doing it. Yet my sister turns out wonderful stuff, especially now she's retired from the classroom.

Then there's Gregor Steele, who I'd expect to possess similar skills to mine, since he's a physicist, teacher and writer too. But Gregor is a published poet, something I will never be. He's even been interviewed about his poetry, during which, when asked where he had grown up, he replied: 

"Have you read my poems? I haven’t grown up yet." 

And that got me wondering. 

Perhaps - though I can see my mum's eyebrows rise at the thought - I am too mature and sensible to write poetry. Maybe you have to look at the world through the eyes of a child to do it well. 

I know it's true in science. Kids are curious and creative, the traits a scientist needs most, and lots of scientists have childlike qualities that annoy their husbands, wives and partners.

My son tells me it's also true in art and Pablo Picasso agreed with him. "Every child is an artist," he said. "The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” 

So this morning I asked my sister to talk to me briefly about the process of writing a poem, and with some reluctance she did so. Helen has this paranoid fear that I'm going to write down everything she says.

"I'm often inspired by something visual," she tells me, stroking the cat in her lap to help her think. "So I try to paint pictures and make connections using the absolute best words I can find. 

"That's not what all poets do, mind you. A lot of poetry is about introspection and emotion. I'm interested in emotions but not to the same extent as many poets."

"Do you try to see things through the eyes of a child?" I ask and she hesitates. 

"I'm not sure about that," she says. "Poetry writing is quite artificial. There's craft to it as well as art and you have to learn to do it well. Kids can reel off rhymes and it's a great way to teach literacy. But it's not poetry." 

"Now I'm confused," I say, scratching my head to emphasise the point. "What makes the kids' stuff just rhyme while yours is poetry?"

"I didn't say they couldn't write poetry," she says. "They can learn and I used to love teaching them. You get amazing stuff out of kids' heads. As I said, it's about trying out words and phrases, choosing the best and connecting ideas." 

"So once you've got a piece of writing, is there something you can point to that makes this one a poem and that one just a rhyme?"

"See now you're asking me the same question you keep asking Dug," she says, shifting in her chair and getting a dirty look from the cat. "'What is art?'"

"I know and he's getting impatient with me too," I say. "Last time he said it would take too long to explain, because I'm not an artist. And he didn't want to try because thought can hamper creativity."

"That makes sense," she says. "Self-consciousness is good but not too much of it. Words and phrases often pop into my head from who knows where. Dug talks a lot about flow and I know what he means. Don't you?"

"I do in football," I say. "But when it comes to poetry I don't even know where to look for the tap."

She glances down at the cat, scratches his ear, then looks up and smiles. "Let me explain it using something you understand," she says. "You like that Ridley Scott film Black Rain, don't you?"

"I do," I say. "Great soundtrack and I love the bull-at-a-gate way the hero goes at problems."

"What's that line of his I've heard you quote?" she prompts and I play a few in my head and choose the likeliest.   

"'Sometimes you got to forget your head and grab your balls,'" I say.

"Go away and try that," she says. "And stop asking so many questions."

No comments:

Post a Comment