When I write a review, especially a review of the work of a modern poet, I often find myself asking the question just what is poetry. When younger I favoured Coleridge's definition; '...the best words in the best order.' But that is a difficult goal to achieve, and requires anyway a philosophical evaluation of that word 'best'. Also poetry frequently ignores grammar and punctuation and it has a right to do that, line-length is frequently a factor, and technical devices can be used; assonance, sprung rhythms, rhyme, metaphor, simile... it would take too long to list them all. I think that initially a poet is a craftsperson, a wordsmith, someone who makes an original contribution to our language perhaps. And so I ask you reader to examine these few sentences;
'Over coffee I watch you in your chair, you have one leg tucked beneath the other. Although we have said very little all morning you smiled thirteen times in the last seven minutes. You drink your coffee slowly. You wear a cotton bathrobe that is at least ten years old, still your least favorite color.'
Is the above poetry? A simple question is it not? Or at least not a difficult one. (I'm resisting here the temptation to say; 'Write me 500 words on that as homework!') I think my own homework essay might begin; 'I suppose it depends on what you mean by poetry; the sentences are grammatically correct and if you allow that they were written by an American the spelling is correct also...' etc. etc. In other words I would waffle. I would bluff my way through the question because although it appears to be a question with a simple answer it clearly is not. Let me rearrange those words for you, or to put it another way; let the poet Mike James rearrange them for you:
i watch you
in your chair
one leg tucked
in the last
you wear a
at least ten
So what has happened? Well the first two words are given capital letters and the 'I' has become 'i', all the punctuation has been removed and the words have been arbitrarily set out in lines and then further divided into groups of two, three or four. Thus it becomes poetry.
Within the slim pages of NOTHING BUT LOVE you will find 46 similar poems not one of which is over a page long. You will find little punctuation except a couple of sets of speech marks and a few apostrophes (Did not George Bernard Shaw say 'Damn apostrophes!'? and refuse to use them?), no alliteration, metaphor or... oh what the hell. Who am I to criticise a poet for what he does not do? What Mike James does is to capture and encompass some snapshots of moments that may make you empathise, what Mike James does is express 'love' in a general sort of way. The poems contain little venom and may perhaps best be described as; 'harmless'. I am sure the poet's wife, children, aunt Flo and the dogs all love both the poems and their creator and why should they not?
I do however have a mischievous thought; maybe these poems should have been kept in a pale-blue leather-bound book, one of those with a lock clasp on and the title 'My Secret Diary' written in flourished gold so that they may be opened ages from now and the poet can smile and say; 'Hey yes, I remember that.' Or I have just had another thought, maybe I could write down the above sentence and make it into poetry thus:
i do however have a mischievous thought
maybe these poems
should have been kept
in a pale-blue leather-bound book,
one of those with a lock clasp on
and the title My Diary
written in flourished gold
so that they may be opened
ages from now
and the poet can smile and say;
'Hey yes, I remember that.'
...or then again, maybe not.
© copyright Alan Corkish 2004