“I am writing to you from an undisclosed location. I can tell you that it’s in a soundproofed bunker, but anything more than that and I’d have to kill you. I’m in hiding because it’s nearly World Poetry Day (Thursday 21 March) and if there’s one thing I hate, fear and despise, it’s poetry.
Partly, of course, it’s because of the terrible associations left by Doing Poetry at school. Lessons stretching out until the crack of doom with a teacher trying to drag 30 teenagers through the 14 lines of a Shakespearean sonnet – she’d have had better luck trying to drag 30 dead horses through 14 miles of sand. The memory of crucifying, calcifying boredom remains long after that of the poems themselves has faded.
Partly it’s because – like all but the best and bravest among us – I hate anything that I know I cannot and will never be able to do myself. Logically speaking, I should therefore detest almost everyone, from plumbers to neurosurgeons. But I don’t, because somewhere deep inside I feel that given enough time – like, an entire other life – and motivation I could eventually learn the basics of putting in a new bathroom or scooping out problematic bits of brain (it’s really just learning what’s supposed to go where and how hard to tighten the nuts-slash-synapses, isn’t it?). But poetry, like music, seems to me a different order of being – a kind of miracle. So few words, so many images. So few lines, so much allusion and evocation that you feel your head and heart must surely burst.
I run from feelings or anyone who is about to induce feelings in me
And that, there, is the main reason I hate poetry. All that feeling. All that feeling truly, properly accessed, face, turned round, held up to the light, examined in all its microscopic, exquisite, agonising detail, owned, digested… all that feeling felt by the writer and then rendered slowly, painfully into the handful of words, the clutch of sentences that will convey it in its purest form to the reader, who will then embark on the same process in reverse. Madness. Who wants to put themselves through that?
The answer to that, I am aware, is, ‘Anyone whose family motto isn’t Dead Inside’. As ever, identifying the things you hate proves an infallible method of identifying the things you fear and an equally infallible method of identifying your profoundest moral flaws and character weaknesses.
I hate feelings. I run from feelings. I run from anyone who is about to induce feelings in me or who appears to be having some of their own that need dealing with. I prefer my dealings with humanity to be brisk, clean, efficient and very soon over. I like a life that moves along at a steady, even, undemanding pace and if that means sacrificing the dizzying heights of joy it can reach, I will do that gladly in return for never plumbing the depths of despair it can provide too.
The older I get, however, the less tenable this approach is. Because as you get older, your problems and those of your friends become larger, more intractable, less avoidable. Or as Yeats put it, you realise that “the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand”. And if you haven’t trained on the nursery slopes of counselling and consoling teenage friends about more minor problems or learned gradually over the years to unpick your own emotional knots and generally develop a personal arsenal of skills and strategies to help you cope with the increasing vagaries and complexities of life, pretty soon you are going to find yourself careering dizzyingly down the blackest of black runs adulthood has to offer and coming a very nasty cropper. You become of virtually no use to yourself or to others.
God, you see where even thinking about poetry gets you? Down in the deepest parts of the psychological forest, rootling through all kinds of rotten matter best left undisturbed. I’m off to read some Enid Blyton.
But if you must have some poetry, I’ll leave you with the one piece I do know off by heart and which is unlikely to induce any kind of breakdown.
'The boy stood on the burning deck,
His feet were full of blisters.
The flames came up and burned his pants And now he wears his sister’s.'
Happy World Poetry Day everyone.”
Email Lucy at lucy.mangan@stylist. co.uk or tweet her @LucyMangan
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Additional image: Rex Features