Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 17 May 2017


The Insides of Words

I gave her some hollow words to fill and she asked what with.
I suggested the truth but the romantic in her wasn't too keen.
So she left them empty on a shelf.
She said they meant something to her.

One day a spider made a web in them to catch flies.

6 April 1991
Hollow words. Empty words. Beats me why so many people struggle with poetry. “Your words don’t ring true.” Words don’t ring. And yet we know exactly what that means. I’ve written poems for people for decades and yet few of the recipients have ever got them. I’m not talking about pearls before swine—I would never be that condescending—but most of them would’ve been just as happy (more so even) with a card from Clintons and a bar of Dairy Milk.


Ken Armstrong said...

I think many of us, myself included, have been conditioned in school to believe that we cannot understand or engage with poetry without having it explained to us. Like some cryptic crossword clue. Visual Arts get this too. With Visual Arts I try to just stand and look. Poetry kind of works the same for me. Things seep out and in.

Jim Murdoch said...

I couldn’t work yesterday when I got up—probably because I got up after what people talk about as “a good night’s sleep” and my body’s got out of the habit of sleeping that way—so I decided to watch a documentary I’d saved a while back, 24X36: A Movie About Movie Posters. The title's a little misleading, Ken, because the bulk of the time was devoted to the rise and rise of Mondo. Mondo was a reaction to what was happing to film posters in the eighties. At the time there was a big shift from paintings to photographs and a simplification of the images. Time and time again the artists and collectors they interviewed spoke about "floating heads" with the same layout used over and over again. The important thing the studios felt they needed to get across was who the stars were and how pretty they were. There was also the claim—again, voiced often by the interviewees—that if the public saw an artistic poster they’d think an animated film was being promoted. It sounds absurd but then we get to sit in on a focus group where a woman actually expresses that very concern. What Mondo did was start a trend for creating art posters for films we’re already familiar with. If you click on the link the images say it all.

What’s all this got to do with poetry? Well, everything. Poets used to be the rock stars of their day. Can you just picture the English gentry queued round the block waiting on Hatchards opening so they could get the new Lord Byron? It sounds laughable especially if you’ve read any Byron lately because frankly it’s too dense for me or I’m too dense for it. It wasn’t only in poetry this change happened. There was a time when polyphony was the in thing and people expected their music to be built of overlapping melodies until some bugger invented harmony and suddenly it was so much easier with only the one tune to cope with.

Poetry suffered from bad marketing (as did art and music) in the fifties and sixties. It became cool to be inaccessible and if they’d done it in a tongue-in-cheek way and the trend had lasted two or three years the damage done might not have been so great but they were deadly serious. Art stopped being for everyone and so everyone said, “Fine,” and went off to look at, read and listen to stuff that spoke their language. And serious art has never recovered despite the fact on the whole it’s done a complete U-turn.

When poetry was explained to me as a kid the only thing I could think was, If that’s what they meant why didn’t they simply say that? Hence the kind of poetry I write. Okay occasionally it does get a bit poetic but slip the odd one in every now and then and they might not notice and they might even like it.

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