I am doing Meredith Lewis (@dangerousmere) daily creative challenge for the month of December and today it was to “memorise a poem”.
It’s fair to say that poetry hasn’t been an interest of mine in my life.
I think it’s because of bad school memories of English class having to read and interpret poems. To me, a pragmatic kid, I simply didn’t understand why poets had to use flowery language to get their point across.
I see now in my later years, that poets have a superpower especially if they want to baffle authoritarian powers. After all, they can put a writer into jail but can they throw in a poet especially when their works can be open to interpretation?
“It is not certain whether the effects of totalitarianism upon verse need be so deadly as its effects on prose. There is a whole series of converging reasons why it is somewhat easier for a poet than a prose writer to feel at home in an authoritarian society.[…]what the poet is saying- that is, what his poem “means” if translated into prose- is relatively unimportant, even to himself. The thought contained in a poem is always simple, and is no more the primary purpose of the poem than the anecdote is the primary purpose of the picture. A poem is an arrangement of sounds and associations, as a painting is an arrangement of brushmarks. For short snatches, indeed, as in the refrain of a song, poetry can even dispense with meaning altogether.” [George Orwell]
That aside, poetry for me has always been hard work so I prefer the nonsense, humorous and quirky poetry that I can have a laugh with and marvel and the ingenious manner the poet has crafted many layers of meaning with just a few sentences.
As such for this challenge, I shared a couple of my favourite poets who do this. Spike Milligan who everyone knows and of course, Brian Bilston who I found on Twitter and who has provided me with lots of laughter.
This challenge made me recall the first poem I learned off by heart – and still remember. It was from an old Mad Magazine (which I collected) and it was:
“The other day,
Upon the stair,
I met a man, who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there, again today
I think he’s from the CIA”.
(I later did a Google search on the above words and were surprised to learn that they actually come from an 1899 poem by William Hughes Mearns called Antigonish).
I have no idea why I remember it from all those years ago but having been a Mad magazine fan for many years and a penchant for absurdity and quirk, these poems appealed to me. As did anything from Dr Seuss….
After sharing and learning these off by heart, it reminded me of the ‘mantinades’ that people on the Greek island of Crete say.
Mantinades stands for ‘morning song’ and it was a term around for many centuries since the Venetians occupied the island. People young and old, make up these 15 syllable “limericks” on the spot to express their emotions. It’s considered some kind of competition who can come up with these and some of the ones I’ve heard are excellent. My father is good at coming up with wonderful mantinades to express any emotion, joy, happiness, love, sadness, although he too errs towards more quirky and absurd ones that always makes us laugh.
So I started to look into them and given that they’re usually made up on the go, many of them aren’t written down because they are merely expressions of emotion and another way of communicating to people.
This one above goes something along the lines of intense love of country….
“I always carry with me
the dirt of Psiloriti (Cretan’s largest mountain or otherwise known as Zeus’s birthplace, Mt Ida)
I scatter it on the ground
so all the world could be Kriti (Crete)”