Credit: GG Illustrator AJ Duncan (@ajc.illustrates)

A Beginner’s Guide to Poetry

By Jackson Harvey

If you think it sounds phallic, it probably is.

Poetry 101 or, lol, Poetry. 

Or raise your hands up in the air for poetry. Or a wee character, lost at sea, drowning in poetry. The latter is what I felt like when I turned up for my first undergrad lecture and realised it was on the subject of the big, bad, bewildering P. I left, looking at my return ticket home to Cardonald, wondering which rocket ship I had jumped on to take me there in the first place. Half a decade later and this is what I’ve got to offer:

 A Beginner’s Guide to Poetry:  

1.     If you think it sounds phallic, it probably is. 

2.     And a rose is a rose is a rose isn’t. 

Now that’s out of the way; is this really what it’s all about? No. Yes. Maybe. The thing is, that it doesn’t really matter. Despite what the literati might think, poetry is not exclusive. It is not an in-joke for the cultural elite. And the fun is in what it is not. It isn’t the words on the page. It doesn’t mean what the poet meant it to mean. And it certainly isn’t what the critic tells you it is. It is vital to remember that your opinion isn’t wrong. 

Despite this, all of us at one point or another have looked at a bit of poetry and thought, “that’s gone over my head” and tossed it aside. T.S Eliot wrote his poems for his friends who had experience in Latin and shared an interest in classical allusions. For those of us with a dissimilar collective experience, here are a few ways in that will make you never want to come back out. 

1.     Poetry is shared experience;

“…Like a death at a birthday party

You ruin all the fun

Like a sucked and spat our smartie

You’re no use to anyone…”

John Cooper Clarke

If you don’t know them = you are them. I think that’s an old proverb. Also, I’m not sure I can publish the name of this Clarke poem here but feel free to refer to The Beginner’s Guide again for clues. 

 2.     Poetry is self-preservation;

It is a means of describing how strongly you feel about something without having to deal with the repercussions of airing your dirty laundry. This is the sole difference between our relatives on Facebook and Walt Whitman’s “O’ Me! O Life!”.

3.     Poetry is meditation;

“toilet graffiti is the purest form of art”

  Glasgow University Library, Level 3 (author unknown)

It is about being present and allowing yourself to find beauty in the mundane. 

4.     Poetry is brave. 

“I try to write the most embarrassing thing I can think of”

John Weiners

In a recent reading by Maggie O’Sullivan, the poet recited their work down the phone and over Zoom. The pace was relentless, images abounded. Every time I tried to unpick a thread of words, to hold to the light, the poet continued on unravelling the spool. 

I hastily transcribed “this life, where is it? Let it be a leaf losing into the sea”. Unbeknownst to me, I was writing myself into a joke that’s taken me until now to laugh at. There I was, flailing around, desperately trying to find meaning. 

My little life, and my concern with searching for answers like a leaf losing (the plot) in a whole ocean of lives. Of course, my reading is tragically self-reflexive, but in the words of Gertrude Stein: “the difference is spreading”. A poem is born again with each new reading and means precisely what you, or the next person, thinks it does. I suppose that makes poets of us all. 

Anyway, who knows where this life, or its meaning, is? And does it even matter when you have the privilege of jumping on a lilo and going with the flow. Now That’s What I Call Poetry. lol.


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