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What is a poem III: a poem zoo

So let’s start a little poem zoo

Inversnaid: G M Hopkins
A poem that rolls and tumbles over itself in one long piece of onomatopoeia: (Mr Smith, you’ve got onomatopoeia! Is that serious doctor? Yes, I’m afraid it’s as bad as it sounds.)

Prologue to the Canterbury tales l1-20: Chaucer
Stuff you did at school. When x and y and z then people want to go on pilgrimages – and there follows the pilgrimage.

Spike Milligan: English Teeth
The UKIP marching song! In a deft and silly send up of empire the English Teeth gnash the world with their marching chomp.

Ezra Pound: In a Station of the Metro
Which we can quote in full (and retaining the spacing of the original 1913 publication in Poetry)

The apparition       of these faces       in the crowd:
Petals         on a wet, black        bough.

I’m going to start this backwards with Pound. The ur-imagiste poem kicks off from Japanese forms and aims to create a single image sufficient in itself (the object is always the adequate thing but an object is not an image – the poem is the image). Pound’s metro poem creates a single new perception of petals and the faces as one (not the faces like petals). In essence the poem gives us a gestalt – an organisation of perception – which once ‘seen’ can’t be unseen. (It is not a terribly good poem in my view, especially when the rather precious stage direction of the original layout is observed – and its devaluation of the individual faces can be seen as a foretaste of Pounds totalitarian sympathies – but it came at the right time!)

Each one of these examples enacts the very thing it is about, and in doing so coins a new connection (or connections) in language. Inversnaid not only celebrates wildness and wet but it self-celebrates its own wildness. The concluding line ‘..long live the weeds and the wilderness yet’ is triumphantly proved by the poem that leads up to it. Long live, we want to say, this kind of joy and surrender to the natural world – which includes the natural world of the tumbling phoneme.

The Prologue is at first blush rather different, but it connects the opening of the year with setting out on a pilgrimage with opening a poem. This is a more subtle kind of linkage/baptism/creation of a new unit of thought than Pound or Hopkins. All the same I think it does work the same magic.

Spike is here to show that humour can be part of the equation too. The poem does not tell us that imperial pretentions are foolish or bad – it makes us believe it via the medium of a joke. Once you have heard it you will find the English Teeth marching behind so many hymns of battle and empire.

So I am going to contend poems change language, and in that provide new ways to look at the world and to feel about it – which brings us back to Pound in a way – I think ‘make it new’ is the function of a poem.

There next commeth another slightly philosophical section…..