In the end – where do your poems fall? Into which group might they belong?
There are as many poems as there are moments in a day, and perhaps you could find a poem to match each of those moments. But if one was to (stupidly) try and categorise poems – not in the usual ways of sonnet/ballad/haiku or by genres of war/love/confessional etc. but in terms of the kind of response the poems illicit then how many categories might we have?
A haphazard attempt to get my head round this goes like this –
1-The truly great poem. I mean a poem that stands the test of time, which speaks to us, that has depth and craft and wonder. Obviously open to debate, but I remember Jack Underwood saying there were only a handful of really great poems in existence, less than five. We can argue about that and then we can argue about which ones they are.
People tend to nominate … ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’, ‘If’ , ‘Desiderata’. But again, you probably have to sub-divide to find the greatest love poem, the greatest war poem etc.
2 – The poem you admire and respect – with the head rather than the heart. Perhaps Shakespeare’s sonnets fall into this camp, Marvell’s ‘The Flea’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’.
3 – A poem you like and know to be good. It perhaps does not have the magnitude or stretch of the few ‘great’ poems, but it rewards numerous visits. Much of Heaney is comfortably in this category for me.
4 – Poems you love – it doesn’t matter what the academics and purists think – it just does something for you. There are loads of these for me – ‘Adlestrop’ is obvious, Andrew Motion’s ‘On The Table’, Paul Farley’s ‘The Heron’, Tom Warner’s ‘Day 32’, Lorraine Mariner’s ‘Thursday’, Causley’s ‘Eden Rock’.
5– Poems people say are wonderful – but you can’t see it – I often wonder at the choices made by exam boards for students to study – there are so many poems and they chose this? And we’ve all read winning poems in competitions and wondered what on earth the judges were thinking.
6 – Poems you just don’t like, – it happens all the time – wrong subject matter, too obscure, too clever clever.
We could go on, but perhaps poets should just be happy with Frost’s “momentary stay against confusion”. We are not all going to leave our mark on the wider world, but if we get lucky then perhaps a poem we write will stick around in a magazine and someone somewhere will return to it on more than one occasion just to read it again and enjoy it once more, because they know reading the poem always gives them a lift or a sigh or a nod or recognition – and that should be enough for us.