I know someone who cannot understand music. Not a particular form of music – Indian classical, Western classical, pop, rock etc., but music itself. He is beyond tone-deaf, the receptors in the brain that respond to music are permanently out of order. Music, any type just translates into noise in his brain.
I am not tone deaf by a long shot – I teach music, I can’t afford to be. However, I am art-blind. To be more specific, modern art-blind. I cannot for the life of me understand modern art (or sculpture, or architecture for that matter) when I see one. If I were to buy a modern art piece for my walls, I wouldn’t know which way to hang it. I attribute it to some faulty wiring upstairs.
But where the wiring is not just faulty but totally kaput is when it comes to poetry. Not the “Tiger tiger burning bright” kind of rhyming poetry, which can stir me – now be honest, didn’t “Abou Ben Adhem” bring tears to your eyes when you read it in sixth class? It is the poetry that don’t rhyme that drives me crazy. I cannot understand why sentences must be broken into grammatically wrong phrases that serve no purpose when the same idea can be just as well, or perhaps better, described in prose. Such free-verse, as they are technically called, don’t, to my ears, have the rhythm that rhyming poetry has – you simply cannot read “The grand old duke of York, he had ten thousand men, he walked them to the top of the hill, and he walked them down again” without wanting to march to the beat yourself. Instead, try reading this aloud:
A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
Now seriously, how is this any different from saying “A spider stood on a little high ridge of land or rock jutting out into a body of water, looking around and then built its web using its saliva”. Yeah, mine sounds weird, but how am I supposed to read the original? Where is the beat? Where is the rhythm?
These thoughts arise as I am halfway through Neil Gaiman’s “Smoke and Mirrors”, a collection of brilliant short stories of supreme macabre, and, sigh, a few free verses. I don’t see why the stories, that are fantastic by themselves, need to be written as free verses, when simple story telling would be a lot more appealing. But then again, it is just my complete apathy to free verse I suppose.
So, what is the antidote? Ogden Nash. If you are the kind that digs rhymes, and loves humour as well, Nash will be your savior:
Tell me, O Octopus, I begs
Is those things arms, or is they legs?
I marvel at thee, Octopus;
If I were thou, I’d call me Us.
To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup,
Whenever you’re wrong, admit it;
Whenever you’re right, shut up.
Now THAT is what I call poetry.