Malouf ends his piece in the CM with: I wonder, coming back to those Young People
Against Poetry, whether their quarrel is really with poetry; whether what they
isn't rather the way they are asked to read it, the way it is presented to them as a
distant and abstract thing.
While meeting scores of rock-star and movie-star wanna-be's when I moved out of home
years ago to study arts, the most friendly and 'cool' person happened to be a poet.
He was, and still is, one of my best friends and seeing him drink himself into
oblivion in a cemetery way past midnight reciting Shelly and Ginsberg was pretty
inspiring stuff. We also had Komninos as a lecturer and he never made poetry seem
dull. Then we were asked to study Dorothy Porter's 'Monkey's Mask'. If I was asked
to write about Les Murray at the time, I might've ended up switching off poetry
altogether - no offence to him; it's all in the timing. For me Porter was the first
Australian poet that I was writing an essay about. I was lucky. Coming to Australia
when I was 15, I didn't have all that much experience with Australian/English-
language poetry before this time, so I was off to a good start and stuck to poetry.
As I understand, most students see poetry as something they HAVE to do, and most
teachers are, frankly, not all that charismatic from the teenagers' point of view.
But that never stopped anyone from learning football or learning to drive.
To go with my examples, I think most students don't see how poetry is A) fun like
football and B) important like driving. From my experience, Komninos might have a
thing or two to say about making poetry - writing AND reading it - fun. As far as
its importance, it'll be a tougher one; today's most successful and noticable
writers - novelists, journalist - wouldn't be caught dead acknowledging the
fundamental importance of poetry to all the writing practices. They are, to cut a
long story short, both inadequate and threatened. So full marks to Malouf for doing
just that. And to Bob Ellis.
And here I think Kari was close to the mark in asserting that poetry, in its many
disguises, like song lyrics can be very meaningful, or more meaningful, less distant,
less abstract because it has an entry point into our (albeit sensationalist, media
Well, pop-star poets like Ginsberg or Buckowski or Sexton have been really crucial
in carrying the torch of poetry in pubilc's eyes through very difficult times; but
I'm not all that sure about song-lyrics of Jim Morrison and people like him. My
personal experience with his influence was that, well, I migh as well start up a
band and make money and get girls; unhealthy stuff for someone who aspires to be
I'm just not sure that forcing, (roting) poetry
into the lives of children is the ultimate answer. The cod-liver oil argument, I
guess. I would love to know what regular performers of poetry think on the issue of
importance of rote or memorizing in their own work/gigs etc.
I had a forty minute feature last week and, being me, I read twenty minutes straight
out my, gulp, epic (to all the epic-bashers out there: It worked! Eat my dust!). I'm
very familiar with my text, but I didn't think about memorising it. I also started
the set by reading one of Olson's poems which I could've recited off the top of my
head, but having the words before my eyes was comforting in front of about a forty
people; in a pretentious abstract kinda way, it was like he was up there with me. I
think my audience appriciates my confidence as a reader more than my dismal attempts
at acting. As well, it IS about the writing.
I think rote learning can be useful, but not on its own. I think students should be
taught how to physically read a poem before anything else. It might sound very
basic, but most people would't have a clue why they should pause when a line ends.
There's also gotta be appropriate material used in teaching; Steven Herrick is one
person that comes to my mind for early teenagers. Ginsberg is one for most
adolesents. Olson and the epic is for the geniuses(just kidding).