By Ray O'Reilly
Beauty, failure, enchantment, … you name the emotion and poetry's got it. But this noble art is not for everyone. And it's by no means easy to call yourself a poet.
1 August 2009
Silenced by the wall
Of conversation all around
Fighting the desire to seek
What has already been found
In the faces of all
Who stand before
You read your cues
And keep the score
On parchment furled
Of no known source
You type the world
And set your course
“Any good?” he asks me after I've read his poem.
“I'm partial to a rhyme,” I tell my friend, but for the rest I say I'm not sure.
We talk about the genre and how it's may be coming back into vogue, what with the internet and recent programmes on the BBC about poetry. He issues me a challenge.
“Give me three words to describe the poem!”
“That's too hard,” I say but I do like a challenge so I give it my best. “Nonsense, sense, whatnot,” I offer.
He pretends to be hurt and retorts: “Shy, observing, judging”.
“Not bad,” I say. Now it's getting interesting, so I have another go, a real one, this time. I reread the poem and scratch my chin in the appropriate pensive manner. “Foreign, fearful, running,” I say with conviction.
“Ah ha,” he exhales, “now we're getting somewhere.”
This goes on for a while longer until we're both exhausted being so erudite. I see the gleam of victory in his eyes, because he has ignited my imagination with his silly name game. I now understand the power of interpretation and he knows it.
The scene so described actually happened many years ago. My friend went on to become an advertising guru and published author who hides his poetry behind a pseudonym which I will never reveal (for less than six figures). I went on to become a much less illustrious man of words whose real identity I will never reveal (for less than three figures).
You could try to guess who my friend is. I'd give you kudos if you were thinking Alfons De Ridder (alias Willem Elsschot), the Belgian poet-author who famously hid his literary activities, which included the novels Cheese and Soft Soap, from his colleagues and family. Problem with that theory is, De Ridder is dead and published his 11 works between 1913 and 1946. Yes, I'm getting on in years, but I don‘t have World War stories in my repertoire. So guess again.
To De Ridder, who worked in advertising most of his life, the art of writing came easily, but he struggled with the world that encircled it. Known for his wry and economical style, especially in his breakout novel Kaas (1933), he once wrote to a friend [not me, you now realise] that cheese was just a pretext to be able to dredge things up from his own depths. No kidding.
This humdrum business of writing was an ideal canvass “to make something out of nothing”, he once wrote. “In art,” he astutely commented in the preface to Cheese, “there are no prizes for trying. Don't try to swear if you're not angry, or cry if your soul is dry … One may try to bake a loaf, but one does not try to create.”
[I like the loaf bit. I'm starting to get into this poetry gambit, so maybe it's time to have a try myself. I can half-bake as good as anyone.]
Humbled by creation
Pregnant in its haste
Like bland unleavened bread
The fault is in the baking
Not the way it tastes
Come to think of it, may be “Not the ultimate waste” is a better last line. Surely, The Chronikler readers are sophisticated, poetry lovers. Tell me which ending you prefer.
This article is published here with the author's permission. © Copyright Ray O'Reilly.