Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Pulse in Poetry

Ladies and Gentlemen, the man who needs no introduction, my gifted, laid-back little brother, with a contribution illustrated by his son Joe.

Just for a change from our early morning competition over who has had the worst night’s sleep, or from repeating the clich├ęd, “Well, this won’t buy the baby a new bonnet,” and because it was later than usual, I tried some Yeats as I woke yesterday: “I shall arise and go now……”

My wife beat me to the bathroom and – to prove I was not the only literate partner – took up and almost sang the first stanza:

            “I shall arise and go now, and go to Innisfree
            And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
            Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee;
            And live alone in the bee-loud glade.”

And then, moments later, through the cleanest of teeth, her tone had changed from singing sylph to whip-cracking critic:

“Nine bean rows? Nine rows of beans? What does he want with nine rows of beans? It’s not like he’s got a freezer or anything. He’ll never get through nine bean rows. We have a job eating our two rows before we get fed up and start making piccalilli –and there’s no evidence he was keen on that.”

And, unwittingly, alongside a brief search for a rhyme for piccalilli, I found myself not only agreeing that – unless he was drying and storing the beans – three rows would be plenty, but also resolving to do a little more research to discover if the beans needed to be salted, like pork, to last the winter, although, being – presumably – a freshwater lake, he might have trouble keeping his salt pot filled.

“And he’s only got honey to accompany them: ‘….a hive for the honey bee…’ Mind you, one hive is a bit more realistic, but that one ‘honey bee’ isn’t going to make life very sweet.”

I chiefly blame (and thank) Monty Python for these journeys into the absurd. Before you know it, you’re miles away from the content, not to mention the writer’s intention. You can end up feeling like the spoiler in the seminar, who won’t let the group get past “April is the cruellest month” by telling you how it can be quite nasty in early June if the jet stream doesn’t behave itself. Thank goodness the rest of Innisfree doesn’t invite any more culinary speculation.

The same, over-rational spoiling is at work in a short story by Salley Vickers, where a character is posing the old riddle which goes,

            “As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives,
            Seven wives had seven cats, seven cats had seven kits,
            Kits, cats, men, wives, how many were going to St Ives?”

Her companion isn’t satisfied to be ‘tricked’ by the correct answer (one; it’s only the writer who is going to St Ives) and says,

“Why shouldn’t he meet them on the way? He might be overtaking the guy if he had all those blessed creatures to drag along with him.”

But what has this to do with the heady life and times of award-winning writer and top brother Bill Kirton?

Well, it feels like it links to previous posts about the balance between the writer’s intention and the freedom and right of the reader to make what they will of the text, even if that construct is as remote and prosaic as the examples above. However, those reader-rights ought to be supplemented by the need to, at least, suspend disbelief and allow some poetic licence, if they are to have access to the deeper structures in the text.

What this entry needs now is a meatier selection of examples where the literal has blocked off the literature. That’s where you guys come in.

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  1. If these 'comments' are anything to go by, Bill's bleatings about the number of hits I got on previous guestings have led to a Ron boycott, which should redress the balance. Either that or my offering said everything there was to say. It was also remiss of me to ask for additions: I should have done that work myself.

  2. I, too, was surprised at the reticence of your many fans to break cover this time. I can only think that they:

    •are so sorry for me that their silence is one of pure compassion;
    •sit breathless before the gnomic excellence of your style;
    •are marvelling at the purity and precision of your wisdom;
    •don’t understand Joe’s drawing;
    •have found something better to do than waste their time here.

    So that leaves you and me to just chat to one another and pretend we’re significant.