The Power of the Poem
By Becci Fearnley
You hear it often nowadays, though nobody can quite recall where…it’s obviously whispered in knowing circles, left on notes on the shelves of bookshops, muttered in the quiet corners of libraries:
“Poetry is dead!”
I have no idea whether it is whispered with fear and grief, like we have lost a great leader; or with joy and excitement, as if celebrating the death of the Wicked Witch of the West. As a result, my expectation is that it is a mixture of both.
But I am here to tell you, yet again, as so many have before me – Poetry is very much alive, and doing very well. It sounds like denial, I know it does; the first stage of grief. Soon, there will be posts flaming with anger about how we could let it die, desperate rants and finally, notes of acceptance. Then, it will go quiet. However, poetry is not dead. As I have said.
Now, perhaps we could argue there is some conspiracy – are those who holler that it’s dead actually plotting its demise? But why? Would anyone actually wish to end something so utterly powerless, something so harmlessly minding its own business?
Well, I’ll tell you. Poetry is not, and has never been, harmless. It has never minded its own business. Poetry is the tomboyish younger sister of the more sensible prose. Dragging its heals in the dust, it doesn’t brush its hair and always has dirt on its nose. Sure, sometimes it tries to be presentable, but it always slips up eventually. Poetry doesn’t care to pretend; kicking the shins of slimy businessmen and sticking two fingers up at pinstriped politicians. It splashes in puddles, covers walls with graffiti, raises its hood and runs off into the night. You can’t catch poetry. Although, you can try to contain it, mould it, reform it – though it’s beyond redemption. Poetry is a rebel with many causes.
We often hear that poetry is dead and nod sagely, right? Remembering the poetry of our school days, the shrivelled stuff between the crisp pages of government-issues anthologies, poems that stutter in monotones and has little to say to you. Yet, how often have you picked up the poetry of Jeanann Verlee, with language so vivid there’s no way you could read it in class; or Natalie Diaz, and her deconstruction of white supremacism through the medium of Barbie? Have you ever thrown the duvet over some chairs, hunkered down beneath with tea and a torch and ploughed through Claudia Rankin’s ‘Citizen’ or Tyehimba Jess’ ‘Olio’? Do you even know what I mean by ‘the poetry of protest’? Of course you don’t, (or if you do, you’re one of a few) and there’s a reason for that. There are people who don’t want you to know…
I have always been a writer, but I fell in love with poetry while recovering from Depression. The memory is vivid; I was in the dingy back room of a pub in South London. It was dotted with tables, trembling with noise and someone was projecting questionable cartoons onto the wall above the stage. Someone kept blasting a mini horn. Everyone was yelling. The host called for ‘more noise! Louder! Please welcome…’ and I don’t remember the name of the poet who walked on stage. I think it may have been lost under the noise. As soon as his trainers touched the stage, the room went quiet. He smiled, a big, wide, white grin and said “I’m going to try something…”.
And so it was that I watched an incredibly talented human being performing words that played melodies inside me while he stood on his head. When he was done, he took a swig of his pint, nodded his head, said “Ta” and walked off stage to thunderous applause. Not a rock star nor some punk with dark glasses and an ego, nor was he cool. He was something better, a poet.
This is what we do. We don’t hide behind pages, talking over the top of our glasses and reading as if we only discovered our voices yesterday. Never have we written only to the elite, the educated, and the scholars. Instead, we shout our poetry, drunk on stage, on one leg, on our heads, waving our hands, pacing, the microphone too close to our mouths. We holler and swear (mainly at the establishment) and then, in gentle cafes in the morning, we whisper to those nursing their heads.
Sitting at the windows of coffeehouses, smiling at the lonely, offering them poetry. We post videos online, burn CDs, sew our own books, walk into schools in our Doc Martens and mohawks, give a lop-sided grin and teach children how to be rebels with words.
That’s why they’re telling you poetry is dead, my friend, because they wish it was. Having performed and hosted at poetry nights to packed out audiences, shouting and whooping, I know what it’s like to be welcomed by thousands and to perform to two at their table over breakfast. I have written for classrooms full of children, for shows and books, and for a sick little girl who wanted a poem about her toy parrot.
Poetry and poets are very much alive. We’re not hard to find if you keep your eyes open. We are the ones muttering as we walk by. The ones who make eye contact when everyone else is looking down and remain unafraid to smile. We wave at you, no we don’t know you, but we don’t care. The poets are the ones who leave words on train seats and at bus stations. Take them. Join the revolution. You won’t regret it.
Becci Louise (also published under Becci Fearnley) is a Reading-based poet and educator who writes, performs and teaches around the South East of England. She is passionate about bringing poetry to those who might otherwise not notice it. Becci visits schools, sells bespoke collections in cafes and performs in bizarre spaces. Her ebook, ‘Ella Out of Shape’ was published by Mardibooks in 2014 and is available on Amazon.co.uk. ‘Octopus Medicine’, her first paperback collection, will be released in October, 2017 by Two Rivers Press. You can find out more about Becci at www.beccipoet.wordpress.com