Far from it: I’ve been shortlisted for the third time so far (and for the second time in the space of a year) in a major international poetry competition with a four-figure top prize, the detail of which I have to keep secret for now (so that isn’t what this blog is about); I’ve begun a conceptual spin-off venture from my second volume in which I write “national anthem” sonnets for special places and paint pictures of their flags in oils on postcard-sized boards; I’ve recorded a couple of videos from the series, in single takes, on-location in two micronational communities in Denmark; I’ve almost reached the end of my draining, epic memorizing and recital of the 33 poems from my debut volume “Mistaken for art or rubbish”, performed in the soon-to-be-unavailable shed adjoining my house; I’ve conducted a series of lengthy interviews with myself about my first book, and it’s negative critical response, largely for my own amusement and artistic brand-building; and I’ve set my winged monkeys (AKA editor-proofreaders) to work on helping me carve the aforementioned second volume “Rhymes for all times” into a vast and ghastly sculpture worth depositing in a public place for all to sniff at.
What I haven’t done, admittedly, since last I blogged is sold any of the remaining 52%-ish of my books, got any books into shops (give or take a few misfires with local West Welsh shops who don’t seem keen on replying to emails) or done any live public performances of poems. Ever. In my life.
But never mind, because a few weeks ago on Twitter I saw a link to something called a Digital Slam, pushed by StAnza, the international poetry festival of Scotland.
I genuinely don’t know what a slam is, having never been to one, but it said they wanted live video/audio of poems being performed, and I thought “Hell! I’ve got a lot of that, even if my entire audience does comprise a couple of bin bags, some spiders and a woodlouse.”
So I decided to enter my poem “The Box”:
This is my favourite poem from “Mistaken for art or rubbish”. I think it’s great. And I sometimes change my mind about what it’s actually about. And I don’t mind that. It’s definitely about boxes though. From what little I understand of slams from taking in the other shortlisted poems, I wouldn’t say it’s very typical, but then, I would say that. Most of the other poems are about the poets. Or have a more spoken word style. Or both. But then, one or two are probably neither. I don’t know. Some of them are definitely good.
Back to “The box”, which this blog post is about; I was annoyed when one reviewer stated, with regard to this very poem:
“I’m entirely at a loss as to whether the iambic infelicities it’s infected with, and its awkward use of enjambment are the result of a finely tuned parodist’s ear, or are simply marks of poor workmanship. To hear the work performed might clear that little mystery up.”
For a start off, the use of such technical terminology as criticism puts one in mind of a mechanic inspecting a cake. Sure; maybe it doesn’t fit your definition of how a catalytic converter should operate, but how does it taste, dude? And I resented, and still resent, the implication that I am either a “poor workman” or a “parodist”.
But maybe, in calling this poem which I wrote on my iPad during my lunchbreak at B&Q, and had never so much as read aloud to another person, and still haven’t, “performance poetry of a very particular kind”, the critic was more right than I knew?
I suspect he was actually just making up lofty-sounding sentences to demonstrate his apparent and admitted knowledge of the academic understanding of the craft of poetry, while simultaneously exposing my lack of apparent and admitted knowledge of the same, while furthermore simultaneously making no effort to engage with the content of the poem, and merely picking at its form; without even blundering into the obvious metaphor that form (and the exaggerated deployment thereof) was one of the chief contents and concerns of this box-shaped poem about boxes.
But, yes, it sounds better being read aloud. What poem doesn’t? If your poem doesn’t, it’s probably not a very good poem in the first place, pal.
If this sounds like me being a bad loser, you’re wrong: this is me being a bad winner. You should see me lose…
So, while the rest of my first volume is consigned to critical oblivion at the hands of two probably-even-less-successful poets than me, poets who may be better or worse for all I know, this one poem from “Mistaken for art or rubbish” has been flung a lifeline. Regardless of what happens in the result (and it’s a public vote, so anything could happen, and something probably will) it’s nice for me to feel that a shallow piece of dignity has been returned to the collection via this, its best poem, and hitherto one of its least read, valued, or understood.
If you like “The box”, do vote for it here before Monday 11th August, 2014. Who knows? A victory might even persuade me to venture out of my shed to one of these awful garish “cities” you all seem to live in and read my wretched “pedestrian” poems to the pedestrians who presumably so deserve them.
I won’t ask twice. And I won’t ask nicely.
Your trumpet-blowing oaf,
A S H Velky.