Thursday, 14 July 2011

Good words, bad words, or just words?

Writers groups are unexpected things.  I think that's why I like them.  One week we can struggle over a couple of lines of poetry, this adverb, that adverb, with too many silences and countless coffee stops to keep us going; other times we all talk at once and there are too many ideas and opinions for one little group.  And I spend most of the bus-ride home thinking of all the things I could have said.

This week one member presents a 'found' poem - he had extracted a conversation between some young people on Facebook and organised this into a poem.  Leaving aside whether this was a poem or not, we homed in on the language - particularly the first line:

'Stay balls deep bitch.'

Is there anything poetic about that?  And is it valid to use adolescent monosyllables as the basis of poetry?  Does the language code of adolescents have any value at all?  Some members of the group dismissed any value in the grunting communications of teenagers.  Teenagers use words, partly to exclude adults, and partly to affirm a sense of belonging among themselves.  Their dictionary is a transitory, evolving thing - in effort to keep one step ahead of tedious grown-ups who insist on trying to keep up with them.  But does this mean that the words they use have any less value - and that they can't be the basis of poetry?

(And is it so different from the jargon used by lawyers and doctors and estate agents - all designed to affirm membership of a clique?)

One member of the group felt very strongly that such language had no place in poetry.  The words of the King James Bible have survived because they are beautiful - irrespective of their message they flow in a satisfying, mellifluous way.  And, because they are beautiful, they can be used to explore deeper truths that survive long after the writer is forgotten.  The breadth of vocabulary, the music of the words - it all combines to underpin the exploration of profound ideas and search for meaning.  Surely these are the words that poetry, especially modern poetry, should be utilised.  (They were new, daring words once.  King James's compilers did not use the language of Chaucer.)

My view - words and simply words.  They are neither good nor bad, and are given meaning only by the context in which we try to understand them.  I think modern writers should relish both the complex language of classical poetry and the immediate, the transitory, words of teenagers - or of any other group with its own codes and mores.  We should embrace the vibrancy of evolving language, arranging words in such a way that we communicate meaning to anyone willing listening to us.

(And did we organise any words to find me a book title?  Possibly.)

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