So some guy called Seamus Heaney died a month ago. He was considered “one of the greatest poets of this generation” as plucked from any obituary from the major papers.
Funny thing is I wasn’t aware of this man’s existence until after he ceased to exist. Or even much less read any of his poetry, (which by the way http://www.poemhunter.com/seamus-heaney-3/poems/ if you are interested) and I have a heavy suspicion that no one outside the poetic community and possessors of English degrees had any idea who Seamus Heaney was until he kicked the bucket.
So as a writer (and hopeful author) as well as moving into Toronto’s literary community I decided to test my knowledge of the poetic world, I strapped myself to a chair and a pen and rattled off all the names and whose poems I read. I even disconnected my internet so I wouldn’t cheat.
Here’s what I got.
· Edgar Allen Poe (Nevermore oh Nevermore!)
· Alfred Tennyson (God I love Lady of Shallot and Charge of the Light Brigade)
· Lord Byron (I’m a bit fuzzy on Byron but I’m pretty sure I read one of his poems on his wiki page or something)
· Poets whom I personally know. Poets so famous that their poetry books sales spiked the day after they told their friends and family to buy their poetry.
Cue my face-palm
So I don’t know maybe I’m just an ignorant twat and people read more poetry than me. But to make doubly sure (and validate that I’m not a ignorant twat) I Googled “fiction bestseller” and got immediately ushered in with the red carpet treatment to the NYT list of bestseller and reams links advertising bestsellers from Amazon and Chapters. Fiction is pretty healthy. Then I Googled “poetry bestseller” and the most immediate link was Amazon. Of the top nine bestseller poetry books, seven of them are new reprints of Edgar Allen Poe and Homer.
And it’s quite peculiar, this dominance of prose over poetry in the literary world. Anyone who’s read good poetry would leave with short bursts emotion or spasm of contemplation from precious many lines. One would think that in our increasing hectic world, and our prediliction for quicker forms of entertainment such as memes, we would have more appreciation for poetry to give us our emotional kick instead of book series so behemoth that they could probably be used as to make flood walls if we ever run out of sandbags.
And it’s a shame.
Because if an apple a day keeps a doctor a day a poem a day keeps the… I don’t know the writer block monster away. As prose is said to be all the right words; poetry is all the right words in the right order. It’s one of the most efficient forms of writing (heck poets do quite well in North Korea given it’s cheapness and impact of making Kim Jong-un’s name rhyme, not that I’m advocating that we be North Korea or anything). For those who write prose, try poetry, you’ll find it a more distilled form of writing, like eating chili peppers compared to the mild sauce packets at Taco Bell. And your prose will improve if you do.
Okay so I haven’t got much of a poetry exercise (there are other more qualified people who have blogs who could give better exercises) but instead of an exercise how about an action. One of the librarians at the North York Library told me that in order to conserve shelf space; books that haven’t been checked out in five years are chucked or sold by old ladies for the change in your pocket in the Book End’s downstairs. It’s happening to the Canadian poetry books especially to make way for the DVD’s and it’s undignified. Borrow at least one book of poetry a week and read it.
By a North York Writer