Poetry has an image problem.
Really, it does. In the popular imagination, poets are loners who skulk in bedsits. They’re self-obsessed and melancholic, socially inept and badly dressed, and their work is so clod-hoppingly awful that the mere threat they’ll read it aloud is the fastest way known to civilisation of moving any gathering of people from A (within earshot) to B (a place of safety).
The result? Most people would no more think of going to a poetry reading than they’d consider sitting at home and pulling their own teeth out with a pair of pliers. Because poetry is terminally uncool. It’s about as far from fun as it’s possible to get. Worse than that, it’s painful. Whatever poets might think they’re doing, their only real achievement is to make train-spotting seem edgy.*
More than a tad unfair. Poetry nights can entertain and amaze in equal measure. There’s comical, moving, crafted, passionate, incisive work. Poems that’ll make you laugh out loud, poems that’ll knock the wind out of your sails, poems that’ll open the world up so you see it in a way you didn’t before. Someone gets up to do an open-mic spot and performs with unexpected skill and poise, and suddenly you’re lost in the moment, just as you are when you’re caught up in a film, or deep in a good book.
Yes, there’s also poetry that’ll do nothing for you. I’ve watched international acts whose work speaks to no-one but themselves, or featured poets who’ve been a disappointment, or a perfectly decent poem has been ruined by that awful poetry voice some people feel they have to use when they read, but which I’ll never see the point of. But I’d no more judge all poetry by that than I’d write off all trip-hop because I don’t like grime, or say I don’t like folk because of thrash metal, or condemn music in its entirety just because of Simon Cowell.
Poetry. You’ll like some of it, you won’t like it all. It’s that simple. Personally, I think the best ones talk to you like you talk to your mates over a beer, or round a fire, or at the end of a long night clubbing. You might like an entirely different kind of poetry. That’s half the joy of it. Write it all off, however, and you’re really missing out.
Which is plain stupid, isn’t it?
*Credit where credit’s due, that’s quite an achievement.