The right kind of eyes

I thought it was worth following on from my last post with a couple of things. Firstly – a Guardian article (from October 2016), which talks about the different ways in which cities have inspired a whole range of poets – from Alexander Pope to Eminem.

Secondly, this more recent article in the Guardian, about the Disappear Here project, in which nine artists and nine filmmakers celebrate “the overt orbicular oddness” of Coventry’s ring road and its nine junctions.

Why do these things matter? Well, the first article speaks (I think, better than I managed) to some of the points I was trying to make (Starting to make? Trying to work out?) in my earlier blog post. In particular, it makes the point that:-

Many people’s first formal interaction with poetry – beyond nursery rhymes, at least – tends to be centred on the Romantic-era poets such as Blake, Keats, Wordsworth or Shelley.

It goes on to acknowledge, that having been exposed to poets like the Romantics first, many people go on to found their future understanding and appreciation of poetry on ideas of the ‘natural’ and ‘beautiful’. There’s probably something about the way poetry is taught in schools here – but I’m not an educator and, being half-teacher on my mother’s side, I know better than to try and tell teachers what to do. But the article quotes East-London based poet, Tom Chivers, as saying:-

“The city resists nostalgic forms of poetry that have been handed down to us in various traditions”.

which I think is very true – and, in many ways, this is the point – in the twenty-first century, if/when/where poetry moves forward, it is more likely to do so in an evolving urban environment driven by constant renewal and change. In my recent reading, I’ve been learning about the Post-World War Two abstract expressionist movement in the USA and its links to the New York School of poets from the 1950s onward. It’s no great surprise, to me, that this group which David Lehman called, “The Last Avant-Garde” came together in an urban environment – indeed, that’s the only environment that I can imagine them in.

Having said all that, one thing I disagree with slightly is Chiver’s contention that “There is this energy and aggression and speed in a city that lends itself to poetry“. I’m not convinced that urban poetry has to be built solely on aggression and speed. A lot of it is – and there are obvious links to hip-hop here and slam poetry, both forms which favour pace and dexterity over reflection and contemplation. But my contention will always be that it is just as possible to find moments of quiet beauty in the city as it is in the countryside – you just need to be mindful and possess what Hunter S Thompson would call, “the right kind of eyes“.

Hence, my linking to the article on Coventry’s ring-road. Full disclosure, I was born and raised in Coventry, though all of my family have long since moved away and I haven’t been back to the city for years. So, there is some nostalgia here, for me – which may run slightly counter to ‘proper’ urban poetical practice. But, for me, the work collected in “Disappear Here” reflects, in some ways, the kind of approach and consideration that I’d like to take. It’s a poetry of landscapes and peoples’ relationships with the landscape, of details – in particular, the shared often peripheral details that go one around people in cities – traffic, street signs, advertisements, graffiti – that form as much a part of the environment that plants do on a hillside (but rarely receive the same sort of attention and affection). Somewhere in amongst all of this, there’s a definable, recognisable, co-produced and collective understanding of urban poetics, waiting to be found.

I’ll keep looking.

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