Poems about poetry are often a sign that a poet is running out of gas. Two irresistible exceptions appear in A Move in the Weather (Enitharmon, 2003) by the British poet Anthony Thwaite, co-executor of the estate of Philip Larkin.
The first poem — ironically titled “Untitled” — wonders why writers so often fail to write the great works they believe they have in them. It concludes: “You know how it goes, you even know the title, / But an act of making / Is an act of breaking.”
The second poem is even better. “The Art of Poetry: Two Lessons” sends up the unofficial rules of writing poetry in a pair of sonnets that break the rules for the rhyme, meter, structure and development of sonnets. The first “lesson” begins:
Write in short sentences. Avoid
Unnecessary breaks. Strictly control
(Or totally eliminate) the adverb.
Eschew such words as “myriad” ….
These poems work partly because of their wit and because they are about more than poetry. Isn’t every “act of making” — in life as in literature — also an “act of breaking”? And Thwaite satirizes the rules imposed on all kinds of writers, not just poets. In the first sentence of this post, I broke a rule that journalism students defy at their peril: Don’t use the same noun or variations on it three times in a sentence. Some of their professors would say I should also have killed that cliché “running out of gas” and that “even” in the third paragraph. If you’ve read this far, doesn’t that tell you something about whether Thwaite is on the right track?
Read more about Thwaite and hear him read at the Poetry Archive www.poetryarchive.org/poetryarchive/singlePoet.do?poetId=36.
A Move in the Weather is available from the Poetry Bookshop Online www.poetrybookshoponline.co.uk/book-template.asp?isbn=1900564580.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.