As I am away for a couple of weeks, and posting little new material on Pandaemonium, I am taking the opportunity to publish some of those shorter pieces from my Observer column that I don’t normally post on Pandaemonium. This is a a short piece on the need for poetry, first published on 12 May 2019, after the announcement of Simon Armitage as the new Poet Laureate.
Sparrows were feeding in a freezing drizzle
That while you watched turned to pieces of snow
Riding a gradient invisible
From silver aslant to random, white, and slow.
There came a moment that you couldn’t tell.
And then they clearly flew instead of fell.
The American Howard Nemerov’s wonderful short poem Because You Asked about the Line Between Prose and Poetry is a gem. It’s a poem about a winter scene. A poem about rain imperceptibly turning into snow. It is also, as the title suggests, a poem about the act of poetic creation.
Nemerov creates a single image into which is crushed an intensity of meaning. A simple scene that many of us will have witnessed transformed into a flight of the imagination that few of us will have considered.
In May, Simon Armitage was announced as the new poet laureate, replacing Carol Ann Duffy. Whether we need a poet laureate, I’m not sure. That we need poetry, at this time, more than ever – of that I’m certain.
In an age in which we too often desire answers to be black and white, in which we flee from ambiguity and complexity, and in which we find it difficult to see beyond the immediate or to read beyond literal, poetry gives us permission to wonder, to find the extraordinary in the mundane, to look anew at that which we imagine cannot be seen differently, to wrestle with what may seem unsayable or unimaginable.
A poem, as the Indian poet Meena Alexander suggests, ‘is a work that exists as an object in the world but also… allows the world entry’. Or, as the poet George Szirtes puts it, poetry ‘is not a pretty way of saying something straight, but the straightest way of saying something complex’.
The painting is ‘Snow falling on a town’ by Utagawa Hiroshige.