Friday, August 04, 2017

The Power in a Poem

I reunited myself with the Velocity Café Poetry night yesterday. It had been a while since I was last there. We had a falling out, Velocity and I, although they were probably unaware of it, over a poetry event I tried to organise with them and they double booked the night and I had to find another venue at really short notice. Deeply stressed by the whole thing I swore never to cross their door again – you know, as you do. So I didn’t, that is until last night.

I had stopped going for other reasons – our church prayer meeting is on a Thursday night and I love the fellowship and family bonding that goes on. Some people have moved on to other places taking their poetry with them. One woman used to present, not poetry, but some kind of short story prose thing she claimed to written in the hour or two before the poetry night began. The stories were often on occult themes and seemed to go on forever.

Of course, there was the whole guilt thing about bikes! The café’s main business is bikes. There is a workshop at the back and an Information notice on the wall about prices for mending your bike on your own or getting someone else to help you. They have a ladies cycling club too. I feel I ought to have a bike tied up to the railings outside rather than flat-tyred and abandoned in the shed.

Listening to the poetry can sometimes be a challenge. I don’t listen well to poetry that I haven’t written myself although I am improving. The cafe has wooden floors which really doesn’t help. The noise of the coffee machine is distracting.  It’s not a physical environment that is conducive to poetry readings.

One man read a funny poem, a first draft he insisted, imagining what life would be like if we were like spiders. To have the capacity to pull string out of our bottoms might be helpful. Perhaps if we had some spider qualities, we might have a better understanding of them and there would be fewer spiders washed down plugholes.  

Another man read a poem, first draft he also insisted, about living in Inverness. Once upon a time, the city used to be a place you stayed one night on the way to somewhere else. It doesn’t have its own attractions. There is no busy city nightlife – or busy city day life, come to that. The poem was about all the things you can’t do in Inverness.

Another man read six poems about Donald Trump. He sent his younger daughter out to check on the bikes for some of them. He was not a fan and the poems were scathing of Trump’s presidency – amusing, but scathing.  

As I was listening I thought about freedom of speech. Another country, another leader and the scathing poem read out loud would put us all in prison, listeners and readers alike. Poetry and song has the ability to carry a strong message and is viewed as a threat in so many places.

One of the many books I have read over the holiday was a science fantasy written by George R. R. Martin, author of the Game of Thrones series. The storyline was set in a world where the lines of society are clearly marked out. People follow the occupation of their parents regardless of talent or ability. A famer’s son can only be a farmer, not a doctor. The people with the privileges and wealth maintain it and the people without those things struggle day to day. That sounds all too familiar! A fisherman’s daughter breaks with tradition and the book is about the how and the why and the consequences.

Throughout the story poetry and song are used to pass on a message of victory for the down-trodden and defeat for the ruling classes. The poets tap into the mood of the population and stir emotions. Put their words to music and sing them over the world and they become as powerful a weapon as any missile. The ruling class threaten to pull out the tongues of the singers and chop off fingers of the musicians. Censorship doing its worst. Someone steps in to save the day and the changes happen and every lives happily ever after. We are still waiting for that to happen for us.

When I enrolled a creative writing class at the college many years ago, one of the assignments was to write on event in three different genres. I wasn’t sure what a genre was. The event I chose was an alien occupation. One of the pieces was a short story on the theme of the body snatchers. The second piece was a diary entry of a burglar breaking into the clinic where the body swapping was going on and making the discovery before being caught and body swapped himself. The third part of the assignment was a poem from the perspective of a fly on the wall. I discovered quite early on that by changing a line or two, or a name, I could make my own political statement with it. I posted it onto s poetry forum way back when George Bush was president. Someone commented that the FBI had probably opened up a file on me and I was now considered a threat to American democracy. I dug out the poem last night and did a name change. 

The Fly

I am a fly, I am a fly
And I spy with my million faceted eye
That the American president is an alien spy
And the earth’s population is going to fry

I am a fly, perched quite high
I see everything with my million faceted eye
As I watch and I see events pass by
I know Mr Trump you’re an alien spy

I am a fly, a tiny sly private eye
I know and you can’t deny
That I’ve seen everything with my million faceted eye
My, oh my, what secrets I could spill to the FBI

I am a fly, just for you I’ll turn a blind eye
For in my own way I am an alien spy
The world and I don’t see eye to eye
I know they’re out to get me as I fly by

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