Saturday, July 15, 2006

No Rhyme or Reason

I was introduced to that great Scottish poet, Robert Burns at an early age. It would probably have been better had I not, for as a child I failed to see the merit of someone who could not, apparently, write in comprehensible English. Had I tried the same stunt at school, I felt, my efforts would have been rewarded with a clump on the side of the head. And my inability to understand poetry didn’t even stop there – even those who did write in English, although they usually put the words in a funny order to make ‘em rhyme, passed me by. Obviously when I was being put together, someone had left out the “poetry appreciation” micro-chip.

Very odd, since my father lapped the stuff up by the ream. I still have a great many of his poetry books in which he would inscribe additional numbers that he had culled from somewhere else. They do come in handy when I have to dig out a reference to some ode or other but, other than that, they remain unread.

I think it’s the convoluted way that some poets like to express themselves that does for me. I have no problem with the enjoyably straightforward lyrics of W.S. Gilbert, for instance, nor with the doggerel of Ogden Nash, who once published, memorably, “The Golden Trashery of Ogden Nashery.” Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales also goes with a swing - it’s the more ethereal variety that stumps me. I always feel that the Brownings deserved each other.

Charles Dickens may have had the same problem judging by his send-up of the genre in Pickwick Papers with Mrs. Pott’s “Ode to an Expiring Frog,” referred to by Count Smorltork as “Ode to a Perspiring Frog.”

A small literary group once asked me to address them, unfortunately (for them) failing to add the sub-title that they were a poetry group. For an evening I was regaled with the efforts of the members and asked to make some constructive comments. They had no idea, or so I hope, just how difficult it was for me, having a tin ear when it came to assessing the merits of their work. I got away with it – but now make sure of the object of the meeting before committing myself.

I used to kid myself that, with advancing years, I would become more appreciative but so far not much has changed and I remain a peasant in the world of poetry.

Come to think of it, I’m not much into ballet either – I think it’s the tights.


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