dscn0330So, I found this poster in London the other day. It reminded me of a kind of Richard Brautigan poetry which I’ve always liked. Poems so simple they don’t even really feel like poems. The kind that read a little like a cheap newspaper ad or, indeed, a clever poster like:

I Feel Horrible. She Doesn’t

I feel horrible. She doesn’t
love me and I wander around
like a sewing machine
that’s just finished sewing
a turd to a garbage can lid.

I was on my way to the South Bank Centre where we were having an exciting and shadowy meeting about the future of G.P.S. (that stands for Global Poetry System which may or may not end up being the name but – try to remember this – I’m only writing it once). About a dozen other people from around the country all involved in literary projects in one form or another were there. We were gathered to help get this hyper-local interactive web 2.0 project off the ground. (I think that sentence might only make sense to me.)

Fittingly, we started the day by each sharing a poem we related to. I had seen a really good Stephen Spender poem in the Guardian and had brought that with me. I’ve always liked Spender though I’ve never read much of his poetry because once, a long time ago when my opinions on these things were being formed, I read a line from him which broke my heart: “For the world is the world, and it writes no histories that end in love.” Brutal.

Anyway, the point is he also wrote a beautiful poem about Pylons which, it seemed to me, was relevant to the whole G.P.S. idea and testified to the unique ability of poetry to honour sometimes unnoticed beauty which otherwise would fall through the cracks.

This is how the poem begins:

The Pylons

The secret of these hills was stone, and cottages
Of that stone made,
And crumbling roads
That turned on sudden hidden villages.

Now over these small hills
they have built the concrete
That trails black wire:
Pylons, those pillars
Bare like nude, giant girls that
have no secret.

Edward Weston - Abandoned Shoes, Alabama Hills

Edward Weston - Abandoned Shoes, Alabama Hills

Bare like nude, giant girls that have no secret! Not blights on our landscape, not monsters of metal, something more like the Eiffel Tower, or a photograph by Edward Weston. (You can read the whole poem on the Guardian website here)

Other people shared some great poems too such as Basho’s haiku:

A cold rain starting
And no hat —

You can find more of Basho’s haiku here. And Will from the performance poetry group Apples & Snakes brought along this great poem by Pablo Neruda:

Your Feet

When I cannot look at your face
I look at your feet.
Your feet of arched bone,
your hard little feet.
I know that they support you,
and that your sweet weight
rises upon them.
Your waist and your breasts,
the doubled purple
of your nipples,
the sockets of your eyes
that have just flown away,
your wide fruit mouth,
your red tresses,
my little tower.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.

And there were many more. Someone said it was nicest way they’d ever seen a meeting commence and it put us in the right frame of mind to talk about the G.P.S. project (remember, I was talking about the G.P.S. poetry project). The goal of G.P.S. will be to “map” poetry as we, as in the public, find it. So, you might find poetry on a sign like the one I posted above or you may find it in graffiti sprayed across the dank underside of a bridge, you may find it etched into a tombstone or a monument, and you might find it in your head as you look at the pylons on the hill. Now, I can’t get into the specifics of how this will work (literally, I can’t I have no idea how the interweb magic ninjas make a website happen) but I’m pretty sure that it is going to be worth following as everyone in the room, from all over the country, was as excited to work on and develop the project as I was.

lemnsissayI like to think it is because we share an appreciation of what good poetry, and good writing, gives us. And as readers and writers we know that poetry, or something like it, exists all around us if we bother to look. People say poetry is dying and they say it is dead. But, if poetry dies, they’d probably read a poem at its funeral. Lemn Sissay, the South Bank Writer in Residence, made the point that poetry is commonly what we turn to when our hearts thump with grief or love, it is what we write on our tombstones and monuments, it is what we memorize and carry with us, it is what we send our ex-girlfriends, it is an inextricable part of our emotional landscape. And with that idea, I leave you with a rough quote brought to our attention by Lemn:

“Metaphor is as close as a human being can get to his environment”

John Burnside

(I should say that I can’t source this quote and wrote it down from a memory based on Lemn’s hopefully better memory so if you are an academic or doing an essay, you should try to find out where it came from and tell me. Thanks.)