I've been trying to come up with something new and refreshing for this week, but a phrase keeps echoing through my mind and I would like to put it out there to start this excursion off with.
We write what we know.
I am sure someone far more clever than me has claimed this statement, but I am more and more realising just how true it is for blogging poets (or at least for myself). Brought up in Sweden, Eastern poetry is very much an un-known to me, and all the Eastern (Japanese, Chinese, Indian) poetry forms I come across on an almost daily basis does take some time to get into. In a way it is the same with the old European forms, but I somehow feel more related to the way they are constructed - perhaps because their original languages (Latin and Greek) and their cultural backgrounds are more closely related to mine, or maybe because I must have heard of them in school, but I am quite sure, when I was in school, "they" (meaning the teachers of the time) hadn't discovered forms like Haiku, Tanka or Man'yoshu poetry (the last one wonderfully described recently at d'Verse Poets Pub).
I am not saying we were particularly backwards or isolationist in Sweden, but back in the 1980's only a handful of Swedes would have thought to learn Japanese or Mandarin and then attempt to translate any poetry to Swedish - and the market for those translations would probably have been miniscule. Japan and China were just that exotic and far away to us, in a way the internet has assured that they will never be again. The distance between Stockholm and Tokyo/Beijing/New Dehli was somehow longer back then, and ,though Sweden is a small country (a mere speck on the globe, really), I am sure we are not the only ones who have experienced this phenomenon.
We all have different histories and cultural backgrounds and we are all taught history and literature from the point of view of our own country, which will - as it must - affect how we perceive poetry forms and overall poetry from other parts of the world. Some poetry forms are perhaps also not suitable for the English language, even though they may work perfectly well in Arabic or Hindi - or even Swedish for that matter.
It is also not so strange if we do not know as much about poets from 'exotic' parts of the world as we do poets from our own. I feel terribly inadequate when I listen to friends speak of which American poets they are influenced by, since greats like Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman and E.E. Cummings were not required reading as I was growing up (and, again, we had yet to discover Indian, Japanese or Chinese poets at that point). I am slightly more familiar with the 'British' poetic legacy of William Blake, Robert Burns or Samuel Coleridge (mostly from my University days), but still if I were to tell you that my poetic influences are Karin Boye, Gustaf Fröding and Carl Michael Bellman you probably have no idea who I am talking about, right?
Of course it hurts when buds burst.
Otherwise why would spring hesitate?
Why would all our fervent longing
be bound in the frozen, bitter haze?
What is this new thing, which consumes and bursts?
Of course it hurts when buds burst,
pain for that which grows
and for that which envelops
(Karin Boye, Of course it hurts - translation by Jenny Nunn, first stanza)
I purchased my love (how dearly!)
For money - what else could I get?
O jangling strings, sound clearly
The theme of my love-song yet!
For the dream, though the truth were vanished
was the princeliest dream I could get,
and for him who from Eden is banished
is Eden an Eden yet.
(Imperiet performing 'Märk hur vår skugga' by Carl Michael Bellman)
We write what we know and there is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes trying to force our own cultural and literary heritage into a poetry form mold created for another language, culture or literary style will do us no good and might even hurt our creative process more than help it. Sometimes doing it as a challenge of our own poetic skills can prove fruitful and we will learn, but at other times we will end up with pieces that limp (or make no sense to anyone but ourselves). I believe it may be important to remember this and allow ourself the poetic license to, occasionally, use those poetry forms we feel comfortable with, even though they may not be the trendiest ones at the current time.
I realise this post has, so far, had little to do with poetry forms, and therefore I present to you the alliterative verse. As opposed to using for instance end-rhymes to bind a poem together, poetry written in alliterative verse rely on alliteration to structure and bind them. Alliteration, simply put, means repetition of a particular sound (or as Wikipedia explains it: 'two syllables alliterate when they begin with the same sound') in a poem.
An axe angles
from my neighbor's ashcan;
It is hell's handiwork,
the wood not hickory.
The flow of the gain
not faithfully followed.
The shivered shaft
rises from a shellheap
Of plastic playthings,
(Junk by Richard Wilbur)
The link between the Swedish poets I find my inspiration in and alliterative verse is found in old Norse poetry, such as the Havamal from the Elder Edda, and the oldest piece of English poetry I have ever attempted to read. Beowulf, an epic poem (thought to have been written somewhere between the 8th-11th century), set in Scandinavia but written in the 'English' of the time, Anglo-Saxon written in alliterative verse, all 3182 lines of it... I believe I got as far as line five before I gave up and admitted that commanding the English language of today does not mean that you understand a single word of the English language of about 1000 years ago...
More recent use of alliterative verse (and possibly more inspiring if you don't feel like reading Anglo-Saxon or Norse literature) can be found in W.H. Auden's 'The Age of Anxiety' and Ezra Pound's 'The Seafarer'.
If you want to share some of your alliterative verse, or any of your other poetry with us, please join us at the Poetry Picnic Week 12, where the theme of the week is 'Feathers, Fidelity, Figments and Fables'. I raise my glass of bubbly to you and hope to see you again next week.