Last week in Glasgow I picked up a copy of Poetry Reader, the magazine of the Scottish Poetry Library (http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/), I have to say I was impressed by it. Poetry is alive and well in Scotland. There was an article by the Director, Robert Marsack, in which he talked about the difference between reading poetry and prose, poetry he claimed takes more time. Robert mentions a metaphor coined by Michael Longley (http://www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=3150), that “prose was beer to poetry’s whisky – and no one has ever suggested hurrying over a whisky.”
I like the idea that poetry is to be savoured. Perhaps that is why we toil over each poem, weighing every word and wondering whether the poem would still stand if it were removed? I can’t remember where I read about it but a prisoner was discussing the books that he read while serving a life sentence and he said that he read poetry, that poems got him through his incarceration. I can believe that.
This led me to think about the pace of life today, has it become faster? My mother always maintained that life become faster as one aged. When I was young I was not sure, but I have to say Mum-you were right, it does! I think that we have more distraction today, more stimulation, thanks to the internet more access to books, music and films than we did even ten years ago, let alone a hundred or more years ago. Does this stimulation make life seem faster?
Is it this access that makes things appear more disposable? Does it make us value the work of art less? I grew up in a small industrial town in the north-west of England, a town that could not sustain a book shop for longer than twelve months. Several people opened bookshops over the years and they all quickly closed. Thankfully there was the library. There was a record shop and, as I got older, I could order lps, on average an lp took four to six weeks to arrive. The shop stocked popular music but I wanted to hear the music I read about in the music papers. Today if I want a book I can download it to my Kindle, if I want music I can either download it or listen to it on Youtube.
Does this instant access devalue, make us jaded? When my lp came I would listen to it repeatedly and read all the information on the record sleeve. I would savour the experience, rather like poetry, or a single malt. Does this instant access mean that we fail to see the work of art properly? Does it make a work of art more of a commodity? Does it mean that we do not spend enough time savouring works of art? Is that why we read poetry, because it requires more time and reflection? What do you think?
He felt a need for the Bible,
Half remembered from childhood,
A desire for the richness of the word,
To provoke or sustain in this rented room.
The thin gruel of the Good News did not nourish,
So he watches the cars slide past in the night.
All awkward angles in a stiff chair
The sun awakens him,
For now he will shower off self doubt.
Moonrise will catch him on some street corner,
Those nutritive words and succulent phrases
Shape his mouth as he hustles absolution,
And the wine will fall through his hands,
His vessel too loose to hold.