Poetry is ev­ery­where, ap­pli­ca­ble to ev­ery­thing

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Heather Mal­lick Heather Mal­lick is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices. hmallick@thes­tar.ca

I re­cently wrote about sum­mer lan­guor as a way to soothe itchy in­flamed Trumpi­tis sim­plex, and dragged Keats into it. You know, John Keats, poet, tu­ber­cu­lar, drowsy with love for Fanny Brawne, dead.

I re­ferred to “beaded bub­bles wink­ing at the brim” from Ode to a Nightin­gale and a po­et­rylov­ing reader, Louis Gagliardi, took is­sue with my ca­sual quot­ing. I mis­un­der­stood, then we found com­mon ground, and soon we were pelt­ing each other with quotes.

True, I don’t ac­tu­ally drink red wine, but I’m pretty sure Keats did — I mean, “pur­plestained mouth” — be­cause it suits an ode so leafy and opi­ate­sod­den. I oafishly drink fresh young vinho verde or “green wine” which is served in flagons or “mugs.”

Gagliardi is de­voted to the Ro­man­tic po­ets though I find Wil­liam Wordsworth, that old sheep of the Lake District, mas­sively ir­ri­tat­ing. I have a glum Philip Larkin/Mar­garet At­wood ten­dency.

Gagliardi used to read Keats’ On First Look­ing into Chap­man’s Homer to his chil­dren so they would get the rhythm of it. Thanks to that poem, I have al­ways looked at peo­ple, and rac­coons, “with a wild sur­mise.”

A hu­man­ist, he quotes Larkin’s Church Go­ing about the point­less­ness of church build­ings. Larkin thinks they’ll crum­ble, in his time not hav­ing heard of con­dos. The Larkin I quote is dreary but ac­cu­rate. “Home is so sad.” “High win­dows,” is short form for the things you yearn for but will never reach. “Why should I let the toad Work squat upon my life?” When I write in anger, my mind lies “open like a drawer of knives.”

Although my job is to bring in new read­ers, I have al­ways been a bit shy about poetry. But there is a com­mon lit­er­acy in most coun­tries, cer­tain things about the arts that ev­ery­one knows, though they may not be aware that they know them.

Poetry has soaked into the lan­guage. At home, we com­mu­ni­cate in short form, us­ing bits of po­ems and com­edy catch­phrases. I won’t ex­plain them, com­edy-de­scrib­ing be­ing the devil spawn of the on­ce­great art form known as the binge-watch re­cap.

“As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one,” is a good one for life-plan­ning (C.P. Cavafy).

Young Omar Khadr’s tor­ture in Guan­tanamo and its af­ter­math are purely Musée des Beaux Arts by W.H. Au­den, about a boy fall­ing into the sea to drown. “In Breughel’s Icarus, for in­stance: how ev­ery­thing turns away/Quite leisurely from the dis­as­ter; the plough­man may/Have heard the splash, the for­saken cry,/But for him it was not an im­por­tant fail­ure.”

Of my chil­dren, I think, “Leaves like the things of man, you/With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?” from Ger­ard Man­ley Hop­kins’ Spring and Fall, which is pos­si­bly my favourite poem. “Though worlds of wan­wood leafmeal lie” means that all chil­dren van­ish by grow­ing up. Par­ents can’t read it without a blow to the heart.

Brave new world (The Tem­pest), cold com­fort (King John), knock knock who’s there (Mac­beth) are all from Shake­speare. “Fear no more the heat of the sun nor the fu­ri­ous win­ter’s rages,” I hap­pily re­cite from Cym­be­line, only now re­al­iz­ing that it refers to death. In win­ter I say, “While greasy Joan doth keel the pot,” in spring “For the rain it raineth ev­ery day.”

“Petals on a wet, black bough,” thought young Mar­garet Trudeau as she told Pierre what tree to look for when they got lost on a wet fall day at Har­ring­ton Lake in 1970. She had no­ticed some very red maple leaves on the way out and thought of Ezra Pound’s line from In a Sta­tion of the Metro. And then I think of the late Michel Trudeau and At­wood’s line about Su­sanna Moodie’s drowned son. “I planted him in this coun­try like a flag.”

“Guilt. A sick, green tint,” I re­cite from Carol Ann Duffy’s Adul­tery, which is why I ad­vise peo­ple not to com­mit it. “Wear dark glasses in the rain. Re­gard what was un­hurt as though through a bruise,” I tell them. Great stuff.

“Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,” wrote Robert Brown­ing in My Last Duchess, a poem that seems to de­scribe Prince Charles crush­ing and de­stroy­ing Princess Diana. “This grew: I gave com­mands; Then all smiles stopped to­gether.”

Poetry is scat­tered all over the place, like stick­ers wait­ing to be ap­plied.

Po­lit­i­cal poetry? Trump is Yeats’ “rough beast” slouch­ing to­wards Wash­ing­ton to be born, mere an­ar­chy loosed upon the world, etc. Of Trump’s ter­ri­fied grov­el­ling aides, think of Oliver Gold­smith’s “Well had the bod­ing trem­blers learn’d to trace/The day’s dis­as­ters in his morn­ing face.”

Af­ter the bridge at­tack in Lon­don in March, I was sure jour­nal­ists would re­fer to Wordsworth’s Upon West­min­is­ter Bridge, on Sept. 3, 1802. “Earth hath not any­thing to show more fair.”

Poetry is ev­ery­where, ap­pli­ca­ble to ev­ery­thing. It’s some­thing to re­cite on a rest­less night in hos­pi­tal, to mock politi­cians with, to note the smallest of mo­ments. It’s a se­cret joke slipped in.

I like it when read­ers rec­og­nize or Google in-jokes, like, “In the room the women come and go, talk­ing of radic­chio.” I like it when some­one reads, “Say what you want about the tenets of Thatcherism, Dude, at least it had an ethos,” and writes, “Heather, that quote re­ally pulled the col­umn to­gether.”

It’s a Big Le­bowski joke, a good one, and I love my read­ers.

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