Monday, 27 July 2015

Fun with Poetry

I have to admit, I don't know much about poetry. Not Western poetry, anyway. I've enjoyed haiku and other Japanese forms for a long time, but poetry in the Western tradition always seemed very staid and overly formal to me. I never bothered to find out much about it. Until last week, when I found myself down a Wikipedia rabbit-hole, reading all about Romanticism, epic poetry and iambic pentameter. Yes, I finally know what iambic pentameter is! Though don't ask me to try and explain it to anyone else....

I realised something as well. I think the thing that bugs me about Western poetry is that it rhymes. To me, having grown up with Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl and limericks, poetry that rhymes is funny, or at least doesn't take itself too seriously. On the few occasions that I've tried to read serious classic poems, my brain seems to rebel in a way that it doesn't with non-rhyming Japanese haiku and tanka. I think my Gen-Y short attention span might something to do with it as well!

Incidentally, I heard recently that the reason we as a society don't have such a widespread interest in poetry anymore is that in the last few centuries, our brains have been re-trained to read words instead of hearing them, and rhyming poetry is much better appreciated when heard aloud. I wish I could remember where I heard that, sorry. But it does explain why music (especially rapping) is so popular.


Yes, the pictures are very random today.
Other views are that we just don't have time, it's perceived as too high-brow, and that people are turned off because 90% of it is quite simply rubbish. I can attest to this after having downloaded a range of free collections of haiku from iBooks. (I think there was only one author who's other works I wanted to seek out.) Then again, 90% of novels, films and music are rubbish, too. In fact, 90% of everything is crap, according to Sturgeon's Law. That explains why I hardly ever watch commercial TV.

Anyway, after reading about the different genres of poetry, I came to humorous poems -- limericks, satires, doggerel and Clerihews. I'd never heard of Clerihews before, but they immediately became my favourite and I can't stop writing them! Clerihews are four-line poems written about famous people, in a style that's a deliberately a little bit wonky. When I tried to think of who to write my first one about, our esteemed first Prime Minister popped into my head. Here it is:

Sir Edmund Barton
Passed his time a-fartin'
In parliament house he was a drunkard notorious
However, his looks weren't too injurious.

Our esteemed leader.
I wrote a second (double) one to help me remember the 'rules' of the form:

There was a Mr. Clerihew
Poetic lines: he paired a few --
Four, to be precise.
Sometimes, but not always concise.

He picked a person most famous
To whom to devote his poems most heinous --
And with rhymes most confusing
He made the subject's foibles amusing.
Then I went for it with Chinese philosophers:

Confucius
Thought a man shouldn't be useless
He should be polite and loyal
Even when tilling the soil.

Lao Tzu
At court he wouldn't say boo.
He wandered off one day
But not before stopping to say all he wanted to say.
And more political figures:

When it comes to Boris Johnson
I'd rather rhyme Boris than Johnson
But at least I didn't have to hear
Recordings of his voice attempting to keep everyone calm on public transport during Olympic year.
I don't know what's going to happen next!

No comments:

Post a Comment