On Poetry

Once a month or so a fairly large group of us gather in the bookshop early on a Saturday morning to read aloud from, and discuss, Glyn Maxwell's wonderfully inspiring and illuminating book, On Poetry. We've been meeting for several months now and have got as far as page 18 - which pretty well sums up our approach to this text. Last month, the sentence "Master form and you master time" (I'm paraphrasing as I've left my book at the shop) really caught our imagination, and we enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion of the many ways in which artists and writers use form: form as rules, guide-lines, shapes, white and black - with words, paint, clay ...

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

At the end of our allotted time, and lots of coffee and brioche later, we agreed that next time, we would look at Dylan Thomas' Do not go gentle into that good night as an example of a villanelle.  So, yesterday not only did we read the poem, we also listened to Dylan himself reading it - we talked about the nuances of Welsh culture; we imagined what it must have felt like to hear the phrase 'do not go gentle' for the very first time; we talked about the way the form enriched and supported the poem; about how the poem feels effortlessly created, and that led us on to look at a villanelle by Jonathan Edwards, The Death of Doc Emmett Brown in Back to the Future from Jonathan's Costa-winning first collection, My Family and Other Superheroes. We wondered about the way the form is used to show the flow and cyclical nature of time; about the way the content is carefully crafted to show transformation ie from father to grand-father to picture on the wall.  We discussed how a really good poem can be enjoyed with no understanding of form or technique - because it speaks to us emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, but that if it really is a good poem, it will give up more and more as we robustly interrogate everything, everything about it.  One of the group shared a phrase from her father : "A good poem has waters shallow enough for a child to paddle in - and deep enough for the strongest swimmer."

So this week, we didn't even open Glyn's book, but we'll meet again next month - and see where page 18 takes us.