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I believe that the current low profile poetry has as a public art, and the separation of poetry from other disciplines such as art, music, dance and visual art, are both unfortunate and wrong. I suspect the first "poems" were sung or chanted to invoke and praise the powers of nature, the gods and human fertility while our ancestors cavorted around a fire, or drew images on a stone wall. So, to me, it makes little sense to declare that, for example, "lyric poetry is dead" or poetry is an irrelevant art. We still have the urge to praise and invoke; it's part of our nature. What matters, in poetry, is how well and freshly we do it, not whether we do it.

People still rely on poetry — or, at least, verse — as a spiritual and emotional prop during crises such as the death of a partner or family member. In fact, one place you can be sure to find poetry in newspapers today is in the "In Memoriam" section. The function of poetry, in my view, is to help fill the holes that reason and religion leave in their tidier explanations of the human condition. It's also one of the most intimate communications you can have with another human - poetry is a kind of window into another's soul. I sometimes try to "explain" poetry during school visits or workshops by saying: "Imagine if you took all the things whirling around in your mind during five minutes: memories, fantasies, smells, fragments of songs, desires, plans, regrets, jokes, unexpected resemblances between people and animals, etc. - and polished them into a form that would endure." That's a kind of triumph over the ephemeral nature of our lives and consciousness. I also believe that only half of writing poetry is the initial draft; the refining and strengthening that come from revising form the other half.

I like to experiment with form and content. Some of my poems take science and technology for inspiration; others look at language itself. Since poetry expresses emotions so well, I don't see why it can't work with all of them, including laughter. Some of my poems are intended to be ironic or parodic, others sincere. If a reader found it hard to believe that two quite different poems were written by the same author (me), I'd feel some sense of accomplishment.


John Oughton's works copyright © to the author.


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