Sunday, September 30, 2018

Poetry and Poets

To have great poets, there must be great audiences. 
                                                   ... Walt Whitman, American Poet

What comes first, the great poets or the great audiences? We need audiences who are hungry for good poetry?.

It is said that no one buys poetry books except other poets. If poets turn out to hear a poet read from her original poetry book, and the poets like that poet, they usually are good audiences and often purchase books.

People who don't like poetry and have not read a poem since high school or college English classes, can become poetry fans if they hear a poet whose writing they relate to. I dragged my husband, Barry, out to hear Billy Collins when he appeared in our area. He was surprised to find that he really enjoyed Collins' poetry, but he admitted that he also liked the delivery of the poet and his humor.

Barry also liked my poetry and attended most of my readings. Most of us like accessible poetry - verses that we understand without having to read and dissect each line to try to figure what the poet is trying to say to us in very concise and poetic language. Billy Collins wrote a funny poem about a poetry critique and the way-out images and language a poet used in hopes of making his verses sound super-intelligent but, in actuality, made the poet sound like a pompous ass.

Learned poets enjoy the abstract poems with deep hidden meanings that take analyzing and repeated readings. To me, those poems don't make good readings because we are simply listening and can't read it again or pick each line apart and ponder over each word.

I like an enthusiastic audience where people feel welcome to applaud and show their enjoyment. I think a reading is not about convincing the audience that you are a great poet, but is about relating with the audience, making them like you, the poet, and sharing poetry that makes them smile or laugh or maybe get a lump in their throat. Remember, it is not what you say or what you do, but how you make them feel. That is what the audience will remember about you and your poetry.

I am sharing two poems by well-known poets that I like. I can hear Langston Hughes' mother's voice in the first poem. Hear Viola Davis read this poem on You Tube.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5L-kKxePGqA


Mother to Son

Langston Hughes (1922)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.  





Langston Hughes



Robert Frost was my first favorite poet. I saw him in person when he visited my college, Georgia State College for Women. I have CDs of him reading his work. I love his voice, the rhythm of each poem and the feelings he provokes with his concise language. His audiences were great, I'm sure.





Acquainted with the Night
Robert Frost


I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain - and back in rain.
I have out walked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
and dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
when far away an interrupted cry
came over houses from another street,

but not to call me back or say good-bye;
and further still at an unearthly height,
one luminary clock against the sky

proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

2 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

Someone (Rumi?) said that poetry was the language of the heart. Which makes sense to me, though I am also glad that my heart is (unlike my tongue) multi-lingual.

Glenda Council Beall said...


I like that - multi-lingual heart. I hope mine is also.