The other day I heard an appalling statistic. Brace yourself. Fewer Canadians regularly read poetry than regularly dust their ceiling fans. I was shocked. I had no idea we were supposed to dust ceiling fans. I thought they just turned around and the dust fell off.
Anyway, it occurred to me that maybe what’s keeping Canadians from wanting to read or write poetry is that we don’t know much about it. That, and not enough words rhyme with “hockey.”
So, I present:
The HineSight Poetry Primer.
1) What is a poem?
A poem is an attempt to describe feelings and ideas in the fewest words possible. This is why men make particularly good poets.
Her: I feel like we’re in a totally committed, together, “Barack and Michelle” kind of place right now, don’t you?
Him: Um ... What?
Of course, this is not exactly a poem, but a man writing a poem about this might pen:
Him: When she talks, I do not hear. I am thinking about beer.
2) Do poems have to rhyme?
This is the most commonly asked question about poetry. That and, “How come the Griffin Prize never goes to someone who puts limericks on washroom walls? Now that’s poetry.”
In the last century, there has been a preference for writing poetry that doesn’t rhyme. The correct term for this is “sheer laziness.”
After all, it’s not like these people write more than 15 lines at most. We might not expect a novelist to rhyme everything, although there’s no reason Moby Dick couldn’t have begun “Call me Ishmael/I’m hunting a big whale.”
But, after the first 600 pages of an Ann Marie McDonald novel, rhyming might become tedious: “Things are bad here in Cape Breton/They’d all quit but the boss won’t let ’em.” Poets who won’t rhyme are, frankly, just slackers.
3) What is meant by “poetic ambiguity.”
This is a device of having two equally true meanings for one phrase.
For example, my recent opus, Ode To Viking Boat Rowing, contains the lines, “I’m tired and sweaty and my muscles are shot/On top of that, my butt is hot.”
This can mean either, “I have a very nice looking rear end,” or “I won’t be able to sit down tomorrow.”
4) Why write poetry at all?
Imagine, “Work today is toil and trouble/Fetch me a latte on the double.”
Or, simply, “If you’re late/forget our date.”
It’s not just life. It’s poetry.
Note:?The 22nd annual Trillium Book Award will be presented in Toronto on June 15.