Thursday, April 30, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
That concept has served me well. I need no separate entity within or without.
Friday, April 24, 2009
On CBC radio they held a contest for the best haiku about Toronto; it had to be five syllables / seven syllables / five syllables. There was nothing said about the spirit of haiku, the satori or moment of enlightenment that is crucial. We are left with form but no substance, a useless exercise. We might as well arrange words on the side of the fridge.Abstract art: abstract poetry. You endow the words and sounds with whatever meaning you want to fit. So play word games. Play Scrabble, do anagrams, acrostics, crossword puzzles. I like them too. I just don't call it poetry.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I never knew how much your presence in my life meant to me until I was left holding your absence. Like they say, “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Now you’re gone, I felt I had to inspect this poet I call myself, and look closely at the way you helped shape me.
Remember Yorkville in the sixties? With my developing thirst for poetry I was hanging out there with a bunch of out-of-towners. The others looked for folk musicians; I looked for poets. And found them.
They didn’t congregate in the Yorkville and Avenue Road clubs, they hung out at the Bohemian Embassy in an alley off Yonge. It was not only a place for musicians, it was the haunt for writers, actors, poets. One evening one of the featured readers was this Al Purdy who had won the Governor-General’s prize for poetry. When you read, I was spellbound.
You reminded me of the Beat poets I had heard in the States, rough and uncouth in appearance with the sounds of everyday words coming from your mouth. And I suddenly realized that to express myself in poetry, I didn’t need flowery language and classical allusions to gods and muses. Carefully crafting common language made your poetry feel and sound natural. I approached you afterward, got you to sign a copy of a book. I told you my name but you never spoke it.
The next time we met face to face was over dinner ― for ten. I had persuaded the local Arts Council that a reading by the great Canadian poet Al Purdy would be a wonderful way to end a week of literary celebrations, and now I was plunked among the artistic movers and shakers in a fancy restaurant. I don’t remember the dinner conversation. I remember little of the reading you did.
I did, however, come away with a concept that has stuck in my mind ever since, always connected to your words at that time. Over dinner and during the reading, you emphasized how poetry and individual poems build community: in exploring common experience they build an intrinsic, common bond that is easily recognized.
Through the years there were several of your readings and other gatherings I attended. Only one really stands out, again here in Hamilton, and that because you brought home to me another simple but vital concept.
Poetry is truth, you claimed. No, not the legal, factual definition of truth. Its strength lies in its ability to connect, to connect over distance and across time. It holds the truth that is not “out there” but inside everyone. That wasn’t the way you expressed it. I don’t remember your words, not even an approximation, but that is the lesson I retain.
Three very important and fundamental concepts for this poet’s development, and for this I thank you, Al. I never got the chance to do so in person. We never got that close.
Our paths crossed several times over the years and one small thing keeps irritating me. You never gave any indication that you recognized me or knew my name. Will you do me a favour?
The next time we meet, greet me by name.
With gratitude and respect,
And it's not just me; in some way or other he influenced most of the poets who followed him. He has become an icon in Canadian letters, but remains so human, so much a poet of the people and the voice of this land.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Wishful ideation? Perhaps. It never happened, not even in my mind. About the time I began to worry that high blood pressure and a bulging blood vessel might end in a stroke, the coughing and the throbbing and the sounds in my head faded away.And sometimes I miss it. The unusual and unexpected can be such fun!
Sunday, April 12, 2009
The attributes that made the ballad so versatile continued into the period of greater use of written language. Probably the most important was its form. The ballad was usually arranged in four-line rhymed stanzas; there is such variety in this form that it seems to become a natural pattern for poetry and one which is not difficult to master and employ.
The ballad stanza usually consists of four lines: the first and third are tetrameter (four feet) while the second and fourth are trimeter (three feet); the rhyme scheme is often a b a b. It would read:
a-dum, a-dum, a-dum, a-day,
a-dum, a-dum, a-do.
a-dum, a-dum, a-dum, a-day,
a-dum, a-dum, a-do.
This simple stanza can be easily and effectively changed. The quatrain can become four equal lines. The rhyme scheme can be changed in several ways, e.g. by not rhyming lines one and three. Or two and three can be rhymed to become a rhyming couplet between the lines of another couplet. Several other variations are easily formed. An extra line can be added. All this with a simple, four line formation, the ballad stanza. Coleridge used it in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Tennyson effectively makes it the basis of his In Memoriam; Oscar Wilde deftly uses it to condemn the penal system in The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
But about this time it becomes the foundation of another manner of expression. Poetry begins to move away from the strictures of the formal stanza. Because it has such musical and rhythmic characteristics and harks back to the ballads of the minstrels and the songs of the common folk, songs, and especially folk songs in America, use the form extensively. When used to tell stories in country music the ballad stanza is powerful.There is certainly no reason why a poet should not write in the "common measure" of the ballad stanza. In fact it should be an integral part of his knowledge and experience before he attempts to write "free verse." Without a deep understanding of rhythm and rhyme, structure and form, his writing so often becomes "free" without any hint of verse. And that can be a great loss.