Tuesday, November 6th, 2007

I never cared for poetry.

Filed under: housing bubble,melancholy — alison @ 07:56

I have always been suspicious of it. Mostly I can’t understand it, and when I can I fear it’s trite.

When I was about fourteen my Granny copied Robert Burns’ To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough into a card and sent it to me in Nigeria. I was puzzled but stuck the card up on my closet door. I read it through from time to time but reprimanded myself if I felt touched by any of the sentiments.

Well, it’s been bubbling over in my mind these past few days. Compassion and philosophy and the romantic vision of the ploughboy as alcoholic poet. Language from 222 years ago and a different continent still intelligible, as is the guessing and fearing of the human condition. The nationalism and romanticism of choosing expression in a regional dialect, and the cutesy quaintness it reads with today. But mostly that desolated mouse.

I find myself wishing I had memorised more poetry, that my mind were better stocked with a wider selection. But I’m afraid it would all come back to the mouse.


  1. You are a great prose writer, whatever the affinity for poetry

    Comment by vc — Tuesday, November 6th, 2007 @ 09:57

  2. Your title reminded me of another poetic line, from a fellow Montrealer no less. Hallelujah written by Leonard Cohen, recorded here by John Cale:

    Yes, Granny was pretty well stocked and could recite this and other poems of length deep into her eighties.

    As this letter to the editor of her local paper is handy, and perhaps the last of many she wrote (and really a summary of all the others), I send it along:

    June 6, 2001

    Cortland Standard
    110 Main St.
    Cortland, NY 13045

    To the Editor:

    The human race has three principal responsibilities in the 21st century; our enviroment, human rights, and peace. We neglect any of these with ensuing grave peril to ourselves, our loved ones, and our descendants. Don’t forget.


    Ruth S. Cummins
    21 Tompkins St.
    Cortland, NY 13045

    Comment by Uncle Sean — Tuesday, November 6th, 2007 @ 10:31

  3. Other than large tracts of Dr Suess (which I’ve memorized) I never cared for it either. My ex was the “romantic” type; he detested this about me. He was also -imo- a really lousy poet. The required proper observation (implied solemnity and respect) always seemed to involve long meaningful glances and wistful sighs -entirely lost on me. Snore.

    Except for once. After my brother died, I happened upon “The bustle in a house”. It described how I felt; surreal, beyond grieving, the mechanics of moving on and keeping a life together.

    Comment by Kathleen — Tuesday, November 6th, 2007 @ 16:38

  4. I loved Shakespeare, but didn’t much value poetry (even by Shakespeare). It seemed in every literature course, everyone could do no more than rhyme. The I saw a poster announcing that James Baldwin would be appearing with “the poet” Nikki Giovanni. I was excited to hear Baldwin, but left rocked by Nikki Giovanni. I bought everything she ever wrote. Finally, a few years ago her publisher issued an anthology, and she was touring to promote. She came here, and the audience was, euphemistically speaking, a “better class” than myself. I stood in the back mesmerized, and then purposely was the last person in line for the book signing. I told her that she had dramatically opened the mind of a “knucklehead white boy” and I felt about to explode with admiration. She then shook my hand, and as I left I said, “This is a great day!” I could still hear her laughing as I went out the door.

    Comment by foofoo5 — Friday, November 9th, 2007 @ 16:59

  5. VC – Thank you. That means something to me, because you would know.

    Uncle Sean – Interestingly, I care for music but don’t worry about whether it might be trite. I’m happy to know whether I like it or not, and that’s enough. With poetry or literature I have to be sure that I like it for the right reasons.

    Kathleen – Yes, Emily Dickinson (a favourite of my Granny’s) is a poet who grows on one. She was presented to us in high school as an antisocial woman obsessed with death and fame, and then we would be given poems about death and fame to dissect. At fifteen my concerns were life and survival and Miss Dickinson’s obsessions were an unwelcome intrusion into my studies. In my forties, living a life more tightly circumscribed than I had expected, with loss a more immediate part of my experience, Emily Dickinson seems like a very sensible woman.

    I’m very sorry about your brother.

    foofoo5 – I always felt that I would appreciate Nikki Giovanni more if I were a better person. As it was I always got stuck on her homophobia.

    Not sure what you mean by an audience being ‘euphemistically speaking, a “better class”‘? Class and poetry have a complex relationship.

    Audre Lorde switched from poetry to prose when she realised that her poetry had made her a star of women’s studies, most students being white. She switched to prose to reach black women, writing Zami specifically to be accessible to black women without a university education.

    On the other hand, poetry as a form is more accessible to writers who do not have time and space to devote to the reading and writing of, say, novels.

    Comment by alison — Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 @ 15:39

  6. “But I’m afraid it would all come back to the mouse.”
    THAT’S poetry, baby. xo

    Comment by ina — Monday, January 28th, 2008 @ 10:09

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