Unlicensed Poet

Charles Bukowski showing us how it should be done

I don’t actually think I am a poet any more. I think I may have moved on to the next phase of slowing down and looking at other people’s poetry. Once upon a time I used to be quite jealous when I realised that some other poet had said something brilliantly before my own genius had had the opportunity to grasp the matter. I used to hang around with a bunch of other poets who all felt the same about everyone. I used to be utterly outraged if they did not rend their clothing and gnash their teeth on account of my pre-emptive insights and alliterative allusions. There was one guy (a superior academic) who was such a judgemental fascist that the rest of the sweet loving poets group dubbed him the stanza panzer.

Such politics and struggles fill much of our young and middle years. It serves a purpose – to drive on the mind to create a poem to “beat” the others or to win some competition, literary prize or the pretty girl/boy. A few days ago I was sitting in the garden with my 1883 copy of Wordsworth. I turned to “Lines Written above Tintern Abbey” and realised that in fact until that moment I had been too filled with ego and the white noise of existence to read it properly. Mrs Wordsworth’s little boy has always been a great favourite of mine. He had insights – yes, insights. The jazz, the weed, the wine of separation from knowledge into knowing is the business of poetry.

Since I have left the cave for the odd excursion into the world of the cyber-ode I have encountered a few writers who I admire and enjoy at least as much as those old great guys. One of them is Paul Tobin. He is one of those poets who cut straight through to the truth of things with quick stabs of insight. He is not flashy but neither is he ostentatiously stark. He’s bloody good. Check out a few of his blogs

Then there is Jo VonBargen. This lady does the image. Her work splashes and tumbles. It sparkles throwing up careless coincidences of ideas and metaphor that you know deep down are the result of  wordless pondering. Long after reading some of her poems a line or phrase will come to you. Her work is a quest – as imperfect as the strained strata of rock lining a gorge. This week I have had the chance to work with a  young composer (Isabelle Fuller) to create a small videotry of one of Jo’s short poems. She asks “Where is God?” It was a genuine privilege to read work by another poet and to see how much a young artist could feel in her poem and translate into music.

If you want to know more of Jo’s work check out her website.


8 thoughts on “Unlicensed Poet

  1. Poetry has of course changed, (it would be silly to make such a statement if I was not going where I plan to go with it) and with it’s immense scope it is a difficult task to track and even talk about. The connections between your photo of Bukowski, usage of the word “beat,” and apparently consistent admiration of Wordsworth (particularly “Lines Written in Early Spring”- which does nothing but discuss “what man has made of man,” of course illuminating industry over nature) have presented me with a question, unveiled a particular issue regarding a poetic shift within the last hundred years or so: a move toward competition (a meaningless word without the action that roots the term “beatnik”), a move rushing and receding from the very insight you point out relating to Wordsworth himself. “Separation from knowledge into knowing is the business of poetry” is one of the most useful and true definitive statements I have heard. As a poet, this is where I find strength in the craft- which is a rare thing to find, especially when browsing blog sites on which words are collected, dusted off, and arranged pretty and painted on a clean surface to be sold like sea shells on a cheap beach bench. You are right: poetry is a vehicle for insight, a plan for discovering, a message crafted into an experience. All of this lies on insight, the basic influence or impact one lets the outside world prick into them, allowing themselves to draw out information slowly and with purpose, making the beauty in words not only “nice” to look at or to hear, but meaningful, educational, didactic, thought-provoking, a shot to awareness.

  2. Bukowski was one of my first favorites! I’ve read Paul Tobin recently; love his work! Truly tremendous.

    Oscar, huge thanks for taking the time and effort to record my poem….so lovely of you and Isabelle to put it together! I’m very impressed with her talent at such a young age! And of course, you, and your rich, melodious reading of it…my oh my. What a lucky bird am I!! Fantastic work, my friend….eternally grateful!!

  3. Jo – glad you liked it. It was fun for me and for Isabelle. Your poetry is rich and full of nuance that is the stuff of music. I’ve always thought that “From This Far time” is real serious oratorio/video material. Such a project is beyond me…..It would be wonderful though
    Elena – Thanks for your deep thoughts about poetry. I’m going to be checking out your poems.
    Christina – Many thanks for your encouragement to press on with recording.
    Mary – Well, it’s out there now. Some poems can be best on a purely silent introspective basis – generally Jo seems to be both!
    David – glad you liked it.

  4. Thanks Oscar for introducing so many wonderful poets…I’ve always felt that poetry was the highest achievement for writers and that poetry in our times, alas, was dead and buried. The last time it had been alive for me was when I was 15…Later, when I was in college, I took a course in English poetry going through all the major English poets in an attempt to revive my love for poetry but that too didn’t last long…

    Now – maybe, I hope! – I’ll take another dive in poetry thanks to you Oscar and your friends…Poetry to me is meaning, music and color (words have a color for me) but I find it harder in English than in French (my mother tongue). Still, with a little effort, it’s manageable. The effort however can have an unfortunate effect: it often kills the poetry, because enjoying poetry should be effortless…

  5. Thank you for the kind words-beautifully written post. I agree that we need to leave the ego somewhere, it is not a race, or a Darwinian struggle it’s about us expressing ourselves as best we can. I think it’s about connecting, that’s what a great poem does when we read it connect us human to human. Please don’t give up the poetry!

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