Sunday, 17 April 2011
Poetry Month: Bruce Meyer - What Is the Purpose of Poetry?
Bruce Meyer is author of 31 books including 11 collections of poetry, the most recent of which are Alphabet Table (Black Moss Press, 2010), Mesopotamia (Your Scrivener Press, 2009) and Dog Days: A Comedy of Terriers (Black Moss Press, 2009). His broadcasts on poetry, the novel and the Great Books are the CBC’s bestselling spoken word cd series. He is Poet Laureate of the City of Barrie and is professor of English at Georgian College where he teaches for Laurentian University. He was the winner of the E.J. Pratt Gold Medals for Poetry (1980, 1981), and was shortlisted for the Arlene Lampert Prize (1989).
TTQ - What role do you see poetry playing in an increasingly digital world, and do you feel the e-book will ultimately take the place of the printed page?
Bruce Meyer - I think poetry will always have a role to play. I'm not sure whether paper will wrap Kindles like the old game. What will survive and what I am conscious of as a poet is the orality of the form. The spoken word resides at the heart of the type of poetry I try to write -- whether formal or free verse. The poem has to speak to an audience. The ideas of meter, rhyme, rhythm and even form have their basis in the spoken roots of poetry, and as long as a poet attempts to reach the spine (nervous system of his audience) then poetry's roots will live on. I am currently working on an emblem book with an oral poet, H. Masud Taj, from India. I think that type of book points us in a direction where the printed word (paper or Kindle) relies on the spoken word, and vice versa.
What Is the Purpose of Poetry?
The student asks me and is earnest.
I have a shelf of poetics in my library.
It is bigger than the box in which
I will ride this planet to its end.
Instead, I think of Icelandic sagas,
bearded Vikings with horned helmets,
their language a wood-chipper of gutturals,
because the sea numbs even brave lips.
They arrive on a rock after a long trip.
It is rotty there. It is cold. It snows.
There is only fish to eat and dreams
of future tourism. They don’t complain.
Stories take their minds off bleak despair,
not because they love stories but because
they love each other, they love their Viking life.
They want to foot-ski down icy hills
and split their fears with broad-axes.
They want to wake up in Valhalla
and never suffer a lousy hang-over.
They want to retire and travel peacefully
and pose for pictures with the Eifel Tower,
and believe that courage is just doing
what you love and put it into runes
that others will use for loadstones.
Eventually, they ask each other, “What is
the purpose of being a Viking?” They don’t
know. Silence falls on their rotty house
until Snarlsson Bjornfast answers bravely
“It must be poetry!” They stare in wonder,
hug their swords like children. All shout “Yaw!”
*Note – Photo of Bruce Meyer credited to Doug Crawford.