Regular readers will know I have lots of bees in my bonnet, and today’s posting is about one that has been buzzing for a long time. I came across this in my newspaper yesterday:
I was born in the motorway era: we both were. He used to say it made him happy to see me writing in the car, in the passanger seat. We drove the motorways – going north on the M1, all the routes through France heading south, west from Nashville to San Diego, then east again across the continent to Monatauk Point before returning to the car: you driving, me writing. Sometimes I’d be aware you’d quickly turned your head sideways, only for a moment shifting your gaze from the road – one flick of your eyes, to watch me making notes. I laughed and said: ‘It’s perfect – you driving, me writing, let’s go on like this forever’, you laughed and agreed.
But we didn’t. There were other things to do, And now it’s impossible. You’re dead. And I’m driving with another person, with someone else. I stare through the windscreen into the distance as the pylons draw their lines of power across the green and brown and yellow fields, the landscape of small hills, hedges and streams you taught me to understand – stare into the distance – as if by looking hard enough I’ll find that place where the two sides of the road merge and unite.
I have no beef with the writing – it’s quite poignant, even moving. But to me it’s just a brief sketch of a relationship, and a loss.
Would you be surprised if I told you it was a poem?
It’s called The Motorway and it’s by Ruth Fainlight.
All I did was rearrange it very slightly into prose paragraphs (WordPress doesn’t allow me to close up the paragraphs – at least I haven’t been able to find a way!) but otherwise that’s exactly as I saw it.
And it exactly reflects my gripe with modern poetry: it’s not poetic. I’m not being critical of Miss Fainlight (and I love her name) but more of the form as it seems to have evolved. It’s just notes in prose that ask to be called a poem because the lines are set out in the way we think poetry should be set out. Other than that I fail to see what makes it poetic. This piece in particular is a great example of what I’ve always believed about much modern poetry – that if you weren’t told it was a poem you probably wouldn’t guess.
My probably radical view is that if this and other pieces like it can be classed as poetry because there are/should be no rules as to what a poem should be like, then really there’s no such thing as poetry.