Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Stop Making Sense

One of the things that I like about the poets from the New American Poets camp is that there is an attitude that anything goes, and that you don't have to be sensible all the time. You are allowed to be silly, or to do things that are not logical but which lead to insight; you can be surreal without being pompous, and you can stop making sense.

There is, of course, a tradition of "nonsense verse" a la Lear but that's not what I mean; that's still too tied to a basically logical way of reading the universe. For me, though, what I find in poets like Kenneth Koch or Ron Padgett is the idea that anything can become poetry if you let it. So I recently had a bad cold, and wrote a poem about it. Which was fine; but it still made way too much sense, so I turned it upside down to see what would happen. Poets like Rupert Loydell are using cut-up techniques - again to re-introduce an element of surprise into their poems.

It's that surprise, those unexpected shifts and turns in a poem that make you want to read past the first line. So here's my new poem:


The next stop is Bessie’s o’ th’ Barn
or a sneeze dismantling the universe.
Is that a break in the clouds
next Friday? Nostalgia sets in at 50.
I feel every week of my age,
some sweet green tea and a tissue.

I need an injection of sun.
Because I’m a man it’s my job
I’m taking this illness too far.
What’s that mobbing the lampposts?

The sky’s an ache overhead. Pigeons.
Metaphysical with snot,
I sit by the window at the front:
my head needs truth, and Nurofen.
It's a kind of unrhymed sonnet turned upside down. There's also the sheer childish pleasure of getting the word "snot" into a poem. It made perfect sense the other way around, and if you feel like reconstructing it from the bottom up, feel free. But here you get some unexpected connections, I hope; something that opens up the poem: plus a last line straight out of Alvaro de Campos (Fernando Pessoa.)

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