Poetry is a bit like bread making
It has a mystique surrounding it. It has a reputation for being ‘hard’. Think T S Elliot, maybe, or whoever it was you ‘hated’ at school, where poetry was often reduced to metre and form. (We ‘did’ Keats and I loved him). And poetry can be oblique. It doesn’t always give up its secrets easily. Doesn’t blast, screaming from a megaphone – although it can. Poetry is, by its very nature, not reportage. It’s not sound bytes or fake news, but something deeper, more mystical or spiritual. Poetry connects with our emotions as well as our minds.
But then there’s Pam Ayres who writes rhyming poetry, which is not well thought of by publishers and competition organisers. I quite like her. She makes me laugh. For some she may be ‘proof’ that the public aren’t prepared to engage with something deeper. I’m not sure. Something doesn’t have to be difficult to understand to have meaning, interest or connection. Poetry doesn’t have to be a Da Vinci code of keys and clues. It can be raw and elemental, yielding its meaning easily. It can be simple and beautiful. The dictionary definition of poetry is ‘literary work in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by the use of distinctive style and rhythm’ . I think the general lack of fervour for poetry with the buying public is down to a dislike of the expression of feelings; an uneasiness with the intensity. Poets like to both magnify and dissect and that can be uncomfortable.
I know lots of people who write poetry. Didn’t most of us write it as children? Perhaps we even loved it. Then education came along an inoculated us against it. Now bookshops barely stock it because no one buys it, which means publishers don’t want to touch it because it makes no money. There are exceptions. There are some excellent small presses which produce pamphlets and first collections, and there are some high-profile competitions in which publication is the end game. It’s small fry, however, compared to the numbers of people who write poetry.
Like bread making, poetry has a reputation. This is partly created by education and partly by elitism, which still exists, despite the likes of Benjamin Zephaniah and other performance poets, who have done much to break down barriers. We need people not to be intimidated, if they are to ever buy and read poetry. And poets, you’re not exempt here. If you want to have a wide readership, If you actually want to sell books, then you need to be reading and buying poetry. You need to be making it popular by demystifying it. By that I don’t mean you need to write simplistic poetry, rather that you need to find ways to connect with people.
As a professional bread maker, I strongly believe that bread making should be accessible and enjoyable and as a poet, I think that poetry should be too. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, that there is no skill involved in its making or telling, but it should be for the people and not a select few. We all need a bit of poetry in our lives, as much as we need our daily bread.