Friday, September 3, 2010

Advice To Poets From Tom O'Bedlam

I was fortunate enough to discover the Youtube channel, Spoken Verse, some months ago. At about the same time, I decided to start recording poems (mostly those by others) for my own channel, langstonify, but Spoken Verse is not to be blamed for my foray into recording, which for me has featured a steep learning curve, to say almost the least. My recordings are improving--slowly.

If you haven't visited Spoken Verse's channel, which is operated by a person who goes by the pseudonym Tom O'Bedlam, please do. There is a link just to the right of this post.

It features some of the best readings of some of the best poems. Tom records all the poems at his desk and makes the videos with MovieMaker and other software, but the quality is superb. He has a great voice, but he also has a great sense of poetry--a better sense than that of some very professional recorders, who are certainly polished but may not quite have the feel of the individual poem. The recording-quality is enviably great.

I was also lucky enough to have some of Tom's advice to poets revealed to me, and I received permission to reprint it here. So here it is:

...advice to poets and would-be poets from "Tom O'Bedlam":

"The main fault is that would-be poets have nothing much to say. It is important to have some thing important to say. Why else would anybody want to read it?

Poetry is generally either truthful or uplifting. The two main motivations for writing poetry - or creating any art form for that matter - "to tell you what it's like to be me" or "to put the world to rights". The uplifting stuff makes the best pitch, like Kipling's "If", but it's all lies. Uplifting poetry is advertising for a Belief System - BS for short. BS needs the best advertising pitch there is and poetry fills the bill because it can be so well-crafted with such a catchy jingle and monolithic turn of phrase that it resists all arguments, bypassing the analytical mind and taking root in the subconscious.

Keats said "Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty - that is all ye know of earth and all ye need to know" Actually he was afraid that Fanny had been unfaithful: that Truth was Ugly and Beauty was False - which it so often the case. His advertising pitch for believing the opposite worked for him - and it has worked for others ever since and will continue to do so until the end of time. Most people don't want the truth. Happiness depends on believing beautiful lies in a state of unwarranted optimism. Songs, poems and visual arts create an artificial world which is preferable to this one. If it works for the artist then there's a good chance it will work for other people too.

The alternative is to tell the truth. That makes the poem important, too. Philip Larkin was a master at that kind of poetry - but he was also a master of the trade. If you're going to be that sort of poet then you have to learn everything that's gone before and how to use the tools, or nobody will take any notice. The Truth is an even harder sell than BS. Also you'll take a lot of flak for telling it.

Very little memorable poetry is created in any generation. It's possible to learn by heart virtually all the worthwhile poetry that has been created since the dawn of civilisation."
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