Jules Mann - Posting #2

November 29th 1999

I remember Lavinia Greenlaw when she was at that City firm of lawyers for a year (Mishcon de Reya) - she was very struck by the way that these very busy, very highly-paid people loved coming across one poem all by itself somewhere, whether it was on a lift or whether it was on their computer screens. And one thing that I think militates against poetry in the media is collections, as people who don't read poetry very much are very daunted by a whole flock of poems together - they're rather intimidated by it, but one poem by itself... I think that's part of the enormous success of poems on the underground - you can suddenly have the space and time to make a relationship with that poem itself.
Ruth Padel (from 'Public Art Public Poetry' talk at the British Library)

Poetryphobia

One of our ongoing discussions at The Poetry Society is how to demystify poetry, how to make it an ordinary part of life. A similar theme underlying all our 'poetry places' is the opportunity to demystify. Responses to what is it that helps you feel comfortable with poetry? range from just meeting a poet and realising they're not so different (from most other people), to encountering a single poem and loving it.

It's as if we have to be devious, to trip people up, catch them unawares, before we can 'inject' them with poetry. On the Underground (see quote above) somebody's eyes fall on a poem thinking it's an advertisement and it takes a few minutes to extract from it, to realise it isn't.

Another firm revelation we've experienced over and over again is how powerful live recitation of poetry is.

"At The Druids Arms, the landlord said we's have no takers and the few men-with-pints looked troubled when they saw me coming...(one patron) Paul's talking about education. The word means to bring out. He said that for him it was like someone putting a funnel to his ear and forcing in. ... Another lady says she's not interested, doesn't know any poems, doesn't want to. I quote 'Daffodils' [I wander lonely as a cloud... Wordsworth] and she breaks into a smile, tells me about strict schooldays in Lincolnshire, amongst the flowers." (Rose Flint, Mobile Poet)

"It was a new and refreshing experience to expose your poetry in public and not to have it ignored. Poetry can exist in any atmosphere given the open-mindedness and willingness of people to try something new. Of course some people probably thought it was a waste of time and money but they probably spent more time talking about poetry in saying that than at any time in their lives. Which has to be good for poetry and good for people." (Kevin Cadwallendar, on reading in Co-op Stores in Cumbria)

Poetry for non-poets is, admittedly, a leisure activity. Though public perception might place it in the category of, say, white-water rafting or sky-diving, most in the poetry world would liken it rather to a stroll in the park. Perfectly natural and often exhilarating.

Our goal is to spread poetry throughout our local environments to the extent that the choice is constant. Besides the usual weddings and funerals, we'd also like to see:

Library shelves embracing poetry
Companies bringing in poets to encourage creative (or concise) business writing
Healthcare centres creating soothing environments with poems on the walls
Parks and gardens which also nourish poetry
Community Centres encouraging (especially intergenerational) work with poets

My next posting will talk about Poetry in Business - after several discussions with various keenly interested business people about the future of poetry, I'm pleased to report lots of exciting developments, and rich mining for ideas...

Also coming up in late December: Poetry in Health