Week Three: Unexpected Poetry

Every day, I discover just how little I know. Just how much more is yet to be discovered. Just how much further art, and the written word, can be taken. It’s limitless, I know, but every now and then you read something and you think ‘that’s it, right there. That’s the one. Can’t get better.’

And it’s never true, which is something I can forever take heart in. It seemed to me this week that I couldn’t walk two steps without stumbling over a poem; whether it was my own fingers thundering away at the keypad frantically chasing a stray thought to the end, or an embedded hyperlink (you blue-hearted beauty, you, you eclectic lottery) sending me off to a new place, a new idea, a strange poem or something else altogether. It’s been an altogether elliptical magic, a transcendent trail of dots connected in the pauses between breaths, in the gaps between ordinary days, between waking and sleep.

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Let’s start with the article I read in The Atlantic about a found poem written using the software update messages from the popular game The Sims. 

Found poetry itself is fascinating. It’s the reordering or reframing of existing texts – like newspapers, classifieds, etc – designed to impart new poetic meaning. I wrote one myself last year, and found the process to be enormously challenging, but quite interesting. It forces you to look again at every single word, out of the context in which you originally dismissed them, and hold them up to the light every which way until you can see the angle in which it will shine best.

In any case, the Sims poem in question can be found here. The Atlantic article also references a poem by Carl Sandburg, ‘Under a Telephone Pole’, which I’d not read before but which is quite fantastic. It’s short, sharp, and unexpectedly moving considering its narrator is a copper wire. This was two days ago now, but yesterday, while reading Maya Angelou’s memoir I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, she says something along the lines of, ‘I moved on from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’, to ‘Invictus’…’

I realised I’d never read Invictus, so off I went:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

It goes without saying that William Ernest Henley’s poem is stunning. So I read some more, to my continued delight. Which leads me to today, when I stumbled across an article in the Guardian about the artist David Hockney, whose work was inspired by poems. In particular, the writings of Walt Whitman, a name I keep coming across – go figure, with a Master in Creative Writing degree and a focus on poetry – but whose work I am tragically unfamiliar with.

No more. I devoured a swathe of his work (while at work myself, actually), and determined that I had to buy some of his collections as soon as it was feasible. The few I read – at random, no less – were that good. From the beautifully ended 1861, to the incredibly evocative ‘A child said, What is the grass?’ to the eloquent and simple ‘A Clear Midnight’:

THIS is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou
lovest best.
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

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I also happened to meet my weekly quota! I wrote a very odd short story of about 2300 words – odd in that it was short, not long, and “literary”, not fantastical or science-fiction in nature. Just boring old humans. Well, it was bound to happen sometime, right? Between that, my 2000 words of blogging, the poems, and the Twitter Fiction exercise I engaged a friend in (to pretend we’d been at a bar last night and spontaneously recount the story in real time), I’d say I’ve had a rather productive week.

Here then, to cap it off, is a micro-poem I tweeted:

If wishes were #poems
We’d be drowning in stanzas
& the poorest amongst us
Would rank as high
As children –
The poet laureates of dreams.

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