Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Poetry, Poets & Tea

Poetic Thoughts


“and she feeds you tea and oranges
that come all the way from China”
Leonard Cohen,
Suzanne (1967)

“When the tea is brought at five o’clock
And all the neat curtains are drawn with care,
The little black cat with bright green eyes
Is suddenly purring there.” 
Harold Monro
The Collected Poems of Harold Monro (1933)


Tea Time: One of the few items that I inherited from my mother was her collection of bone china tea cups; this is one of my favourites. Whether or not tea tastes better in such delicate cups is up for debate, but such cups are obviously beautiful and the artwork something to admire. There is something poetic about tea, which coffee lacks (and I do enjoy coffee, but not when writing poetry). While both are stimulants, coffee speaks of immediate action whereas tea speaks of thoughtful contemplation. Is there a coffee equivalent of the Japanese tea ceremony?
Photo Credit & Source: ©Perry J. Greenbaum, 2016


An article, by A.E. Stallings, in The Times Literary Supplement, not so much defends poetry as gives it a reason to exist. First off, poetry is not everyone’s cup of tea; just as not everyone enjoys watching or participating in sports, so it is with poetry (I happen to enjoy both.) Stallings argues that poetry has always been around and it is more than likely that it will out-survive other forms of written work, including journalism, which has seen better days.

So there is poetry and there is the poet, who suffers far worse indignities than “the writer.” In “Why bother with poetry” (November 7, 2016), Stallings writes:
Is it something one owns up to, at, say, a cocktail party? Isn’t it easier just to say one is a writer, and move on? If you want to shut the conversation down, you can always say you are a poet. And then if your interlocutor is persistent, and follows up with “What kind of poetry do you write?” You can always answer, “Good”. That usually does the trick. Or sometimes, if it is more of a literary crowd, I might mix things up with “the kind that rhymes”.
The pleasures of poetry are subversive, and perhaps always have been. Bards and vagabonds have been linked since Homer and Hesiod (“beggar hates beggar, and bard hates bard”). Poetry, being beyond commercial concerns, mostly because there is no money in it, and irrelevant to power, unacknowledged legislators aside, should at least have the prerogative of not being entirely respectable. I tend to write it when I am playing hooky from another project – prose like this, say, or translation. Poetry is where I go to play, but also where I seek solace. As William Carlos Williams famously has it, in his meditation “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower”: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there”.
Poetry does not reap great financial reward it will not bring great economic benefit, and it resists mass-market appeal common to other creative efforts. But the attempt to write some free verse will give you a greater understanding of being human, which includes an understanding of yourself; and, if you expend greater effort, if you dig deep enough, the endeavor might prove successful in some form and you might eventually write something that you would be willing to share with the public. Maybe? Perhaps? Who knows? This about sums it up; nothing further to add, then to say I must get back to the poem I have been working on and to my hot cup of tea.

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