View from the Bridge: 45
by John Morrison
45: One Man & His Doggerel
The literati of Milltown greet the publication of Ted Hughes's new collection of poems with a collective dropping of the jaw. It's hard to recall when poetry landed with such a resounding thud on the doormat of our imaginations. Love him or loathe him (and he seems to inspire strong feelings either way) we feel a little proprietorial about our 'local boy made good'. Strange, then, that a polite enquiry in the bookshop elicits a puzzled response from the new assistant. "Ted Hughes? Nah, he doesn't work here any more".
Never mind, there are plenty of folk in Milltown who need no prompting to ruin an otherwise pleasant evening in the pub by announcing, portentiously: "I'd like to read a poem". Let's not mince words: writing poetry is the art of saying in two finely-honed words what might have been better expressed in twenty. Whining about the iniquities of life, in faltering verse, is something you do in adolescence while your skin clears up. If it continues long after the discovery of masturbation and shoot-'em-up computer games, go see a doctor. And, like masturbation, poetry is best performed without an audience, in the privacy of your bedroom. Think very hard before attempting it in public. Then wash your hands.
Willow Woman writes poems about what it's like to be a poet, and the problems of being so sensitive in a world that doesn't care. It's not easy being a poet. Hacking through the dense undergrowth of her innermost thoughts, fears and desires can be a traumatic business. Even something as simple as finding a scrap of paper and a pencil stub can be a morning's work in a household where chaos rules.
We have Bill Gates and his ilk to thank for demystifying the printing process, and making it available to anyone with a computer and a laser printer. The good news: it's now possible for anyone to publish a slim volume of poetry. The bad news, conversely, is that it's now possible for anyone to publish a slim volume of poetry. And then force those precious pages into the reluctant hands of family, friends and neighbours - most of whom, if given the choice, would prefer to be flicked remorseless with a wet towel than have to read poetry.
Willow Woman's own little collection of verse is not something you'd want to read twice. It's not something you'd want to read even once, to be honest, but a promise is a promise. Having been entrusted with her first literary efforts, Wounded Man is turning the pages without enthusiasm. "You'll tell me what you really think, won't you?", she had said, meaning nothing of the kind. A born diplomat, happy to offer a meaningless platitude when necessary, he's already wondering what to say to her. Some faint praise that will bring a smile to Willow Woman's lovely, ingenuous face, yet give her not the slightest encouragement to consign any more of her maudlin rhymes to paper.
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