Tuesday, October 26, 2004

My First Poetry

So in tutorial yesterday, Prof. Kuin suggested that we blog on our first experience with poetry. After some thought, reflection and remembering, I came to the conclusion that poetry for me began on a birthday of mine.
It was probably my ninth or tenth birthday when I got a gift from my godparents in India: It was a book of poetry. It was by an Indian author named Vikram Seth and it was called "Beastly Tales: From Here and There" (I later found out that Seth was a famous writer in India and the world and "beastly Tales" was one of best works). The book contained fables that we all know and belong to the general canon of fable literature, 'The Tortoise and the Hare' and 'The Crocodile and the Monkey' for example. But Seth had adapted these stories into a simple free verse AA BB CC DD rhyming scheme. As an English student I now know Seth is using certain literary devices to make these poems easy to read, but as I child, I didn't know what a 'rhyme scheme' meant, or that 'enjambement' gave a poem foreword momentum. I was just amused by the rhyming. Actually, when I first got the book, I read all ten stories in one setting, I couldn't get over the easy, flowy rhyme pattern. It made the book so easy to read.
Here's an example from the "The Tortoise and the Hare." It comes when the hare and tortoise first meet and challenge each other to a race:

"Darling Tortoise," drawled the hare,
"I would thrash you anywhere-
Marsh or mountain, hill or dale,
Field or forest, rain or hail!"
Snapped the tortoise slow and steady:
"Choose your place, and I'll be ready.
Choose your time, and make it soon."
"Here!" the hare said: "Sunday at noon."

This tiny excerpt doesn't do justice to the whole poem of course, but it shows what I mean.
On more of a tangential note, reading these poems now, I find that they really a) challenge stereo types and b) deal with mature subject matter. Seth's adaptations are quite graphic (and sometimes even violent). "The Eagle and the Beetle" is a Grecian fable and one of the more graphic ones:

One day, alas, an eagle flew
Above them, and before they knew
What cloud had shadowed them, the hare
Hung from her [the eagle's] talons in mid-air.
"Please spare my friend," the beetle cried.
But the great eagle sneered with pride:
"You puny, servile, cloddish bug-
Go off and hide your ugly mug.
How do you dare assume the right
To meddle with my appetite?
This hares' my snack. Have you not heard
I am the great god Zeus's bird?
Nothing can harm me, least of all
A slow, pathetic, droning ball.
Here keep your friend's head-" And she tore
The hare's head off, and swiftly bore
His bleeding torso to her nest,
Ripped off his tale, and ate the rest.

Wow! That's a healthy dosage of ultra-violence if your ask me. I was a kid when I first read that! I remember my mom getting a bit uncomfortable when she heard me read this poem to her for the first time.

As for challenging stereotypes, Seth genders the character is his adaptations. For example, the hare, from "The Hare and The Tortoise," is a female. I remember reading that story as a child in school and seeing, in the illustrations, that both characters were made out to be male. Also, when I think of an eagle, I always think of a male. I know it's bad and I shouldn't arbitrarily assign gender to animals, but looking over these poems (after all this time) has challenged me to think in nongendered ways.

So there you have it:
A little history,
About me!


P.S.: If anyone is interested, "Beastly Tales" is in the library, you can find it here:
PR 9499.3 S39 B43 1992.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Good Poetry...Not So Good Poetry

Again, this is arbitrary, abstract question that has no real answer. But - and this is a pretty big but - I feel a poet (or any writer, for that matter) must have some talent in wordsmithing. For example, I love watching sports, but never in a million years would I be able to slam dunk a basketball, throw a strike, or pick a corner of a hockey net; no matter how much I practice. Now, there are certain things a poet can do to make her or his poem good/better, but if the basic wordsmithing ability is lacking, then, I feel, a poem can't be good.
Now I see all of you reading this and saying: "Well, what is 'good?' That's so subjective!" [We English students just love that word, don't we?!] Let me illustrate what I mean by 'good' with an example (being a musician, I often compare things to music, and will do the same here):
I am a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due. One may not like a certain type of music or musician, but the fact that you are hearing it means that somebody (at least one person) likes it. What I mean is, it's pretty arrogant to say something sucks. You may not like it, but somebody might. I think it's cool when people disagree about something and then discuss it. I once had a conversation with someone about Queen's "Boheimien Rhapsody," he said the song was "garbage" and "too artsy-fartsy." First, I told him he was an idiot for saying that, then we a long disscussion about it. We didn't change each other's opinion, but I got him to take back his garbage" and "too artsy-fartsy" comments. In the same vein, I don't like 50 cent, but I won't say he sucks. I don't like him for many reasons, but there are the same amount of reasons why he is a very succesful and popular entertainer right now.

As for the examples Prof. Kuin gave us, only Ogden Nash is in the anthology. I found all the poems in his section funny. Now these aren't the greatest poems I've read, but they're good for a laugh. I entertained my parents with a reading of "Columbus;" they too thought it funny. But like all good comics, Nash creates a layer of intelligence and information in "Columbus." It gives a comical view of Columbus' life prior to his sailing in search of India, even though the poem insinuates that Columbus was looking to finince a trip to America. It adds to the irony of the poem. My favourite line is 18: "All he said was, I am Columbus, the 15th century Admiral Byrd." Nash's Columbus has the ability to see some 500 years into the future!

The other "poets" are a whole other story! Solyman Brown's poems are on dentistry! It would have cool if they were good poems, but they are really bad. I couldn't help smelling the cheese off my computer screen; I will say no more, look for yourself! http://homepage.ntlworld.com/nick.page1/worst/Brown/brown.html

Now I would have thought a reverend, being an educated man, would have some ability to write poetry. I'm sure many of them can, but Rev. McGonigall is a painful exception. You only have to read "An address to Rev. George Gilfillan." I'm not saying I could do much better, but this poem is pretty bad. I guess his heart was in the right place, but this passage will tell you what I mean: "He has written the life of Sir Walter Scott, / And while he lives he will never be forgot, / Nor when he is dead. / Because by his admirers it will be often read;" Again, more cheese wafting from my screen! http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/bad/McGonagall.Gilfillan.html

I guess this goes back to my original point: If you haven't got the basic talent/gift of wordsmithing, it is really hard to stay out of bad poetry anthologies. After all, it's where I found Solyman Brown and Rev. McGonigall.