Thursday 21 February 2013

On Poetry, Writing & Other People (Short Essay by Raymond Antrobus)

Eduardo.C Carol is a poet from New York; I came across an interview of his online where he talks on his own progress as a poet.

“I was writing tidbits of autobiography instead of poems. It took me years of practice to learn how to listen to language, to follow it not lead it.”

This led me to question the validity of where I am at as a poet who is writing mainly autobiographical prose poems. How much control do I have over my own poetic craft if I am driven by needing to resolve things personally. Furthermore, how do I assure that what I write is of interest and value to other people?

I came across this quote from the late Kurt Vonnegut, “write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia”. A poet doesn’t need to concern him or herself with mass appeal, as what poets offer as a kind of alternative to mainstream culture. But if my writing only appeals to other poets and writers I am neglecting the taste of those outside my aesthetic mentality, which is pretty much most of the world.

Gorge The Poet gave a brilliant interview in the Observer recently where he spoke on the social reasonability of rappers.

"Rappers have so much power to do good and they squander it, I want to tell them, I wish you knew you were like my big brother. I wish you knew I could have been in the best mood, but I wanted to have a fight directly after listening to your song."

In my opinion the poet in modern society is most effective as an educator, campaigner and entertainer; these are all roles that aim to influence culture. As a Spoken Word Artist, poetry and performance is a vehicle towards that which is something the late Lancashire poet, Graham Hough has written - 

“The fact that poetry is not of the slightest economic or political importance, that it has no attachment to any of the powers that control the modern world, may set it free to do the only thing that in this age it can do – to keep some neglected part of the human experience alive until the weather changes; as in some unforeseeable way it may do”

This weather change could be a resistance against the current dominating celebrity culture; I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it but the machine is so huge and is responsible for deluding the minds of a lot of people (particularly the young and impressionable).

The neglected part of the human experience in the western world could be the part that is beyond materialist thinking. As well as educating, campaigning and entertaining I also feel the poets job is to uplift, it is to say I KNOW HOW TO CELEBRATE LIFE IN SPITE OF DEATH, WAR, HATRED, HEARTBREAK etc, so back to myself and how I write, I hope my poems like One Night At Zula Bar In Cape Town (published in my fist pamphlet) achieves a kind of universality so no one feels they’ve wasted time experiencing my poetry or life story or claim to fame... or whatever you call it. 


  1. An interesting conversation starter that had me thinking. Here’s my thoughts…
    The Kurt Vonnegut quote- great quote, but slightly misinterpreted. Vonnegut isn't saying to write only for yourself, but for one person- a bit like Mayakovsky when he says you have to keep your audience in mind when writing. The one person you write for can change- be it your mother, your best friend, or your worst enemy. Keep one person in mind, speak to them as honestly as possible, and you will find you are speaking to all with honesty.
    With regards to your last comment on this, about reaching those outside of your aesthetic mentality- well, you do write poetry. If you want to reach a lot of people, using a niche art form is not the way- write pop songs. Poetry is mainly outside the mass-media bubblegum pop-culture that dominates Western society, and this is something to be celebrated. Poetry is not easily disposable, it is not a commodity, it is not content made as a product to be sold and disposed, it promotes meditation on any number of subjects. Thus, poetry has the ability to challenge this model for entertainment.
    If poets within this society reflect the main culture by writing poems that have the same content, themes, and ease of digestion, then they are doing themselves and the art form a disservice, much in the same way rappers who objectify women, romanticise drug dealing, and worship material wealth and violence are doing Hip-Hop a major disservice. It is true this type of rapping sells, gets radio play, and hits a mass audience. By your logic, these rappers are justified as they hit an audience that doesn't necessarily respect the craft of writing rhymes and riding a beat, but who will buy into the product as it speaks to them in a way they understand, which is through reflecting the main obsessions of our mass-media culture back at them. Is this the direction you wish poetry to go towards? Not by going all “bitches, blunts and 40s”, but by reflecting the expectations of an audience back at them, pandering to expectations which have been created by popular culture entertainment?
    I personally feel a comment such as, "the poets job is to uplift, it is to say I KNOW HOW TO CELEBRATE LIFE IN SPITE OF DEATH, WAR, HATRED, HEARTBREAK etc," violently disregards the vast majority of poetry, spoken word, and art. You can ‘celebrate life’ without your end goal being to uplift, especially as uplifting has connotations of contentment, which in turn leads to lack of critical thought. A poet/artist creates in order to communicate life in all its disparate, myriad forms, and a good artist/poet is able to stimulate within us the full range of emotions available to us as living beings, helping us share pain and joy- As Spider Robinson wrote, "Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy."
    A comedian uplifts, a pop singer uplifts, a Disney film uplifts, an Adidas advert with a rousing orchestra and 'elevator speech' voiceover uplifts. These are all readily available experiences in our society, but do they have depth? A new car, a new suit, new shoes, new haircut, all of these uplift, but do they add value to a life? Compliments uplift, being loved uplifts, being appreciated uplifts, and being accepted uplifts, but is this all we look for from the people we trust and admire?
    I will leave you with the words of Ray Bradbury, as written in Fahrenheit 451. "We're living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. Yet somehow we think we can go on feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality."

  2. Nice one Christian - but either I've written this article really badly or you've taken what I've said and then just articulated it better... but at the same time framing it as an argument that is for what I said in the first place... like that KV quote - I used that as an example as only needing to appeal to one person instead of aiming for mass appeal... literally, everything you just said is what I was getting at... man I need to improve my short essay writing. Hope you're well man,

    1. Easy Ray- probably both may possibly be true- is that the most unstable sentence, ever? Anyway, I think your short essay writing skills are all good- as I said, this is a conversation starter, and I wanted to respond to what you had said, putting it through my own lense and communicating it. You have an analytical soul, you write, and you write well. You wrote this eassay and it sparked something in me- as all good writers do to an inquisitive soul- and I wanted to throw my hat into the ring. I don't feel we agree 100%, especially as I don't see a poets job being to uplift- it's part of the job description, there is a definite need for a touch of the transcendental in poetry- but the main goal of the poet, for me, should be to cut through the bullshit. We live in a world built on word games, be it politics, religion, or a debate on tomorrows weather down the pub, it's all a word game. Poets, being masters of language- it's what the title expects- should be able to play these word games in such a way as to destroy the artifice that holds them up, thus levelling the playing field- to use an old cliche- meaning that all that comes after is built on a solid foundation of very real bedrock- and this bedrock isn't some uplifted, high-faluting state. Rather, this state is one devoid of sentiment, that sees the world for what it is- no romance, no hope or death, but possibilities of all three and all the much more.

      Anyway, I could go on. Being stuck in Chichester doing this bloody degree means I don't get out much, for business or pleasure, and I'm missing seeing poetry on stage. I feel like my life is on hold. Take care, Ray. No doubt, once I escape this place for fairer climes, we'll bump into each other. Take care.

  3. Some hard food for thought from both of you. The voyeur in me feels like I just eavesdropped on some wise words.