With a real friend the conversation never stops. The same is true of differences of opinion. One of my friends and I have a never-ending argument as to the nature of poets and poetry. It's a little oasis of irrelevance that stops us worrying over our frankly terrifying, lunatic, overheated world and the travails of being in our mid-fifties.
In essence, my friend is of the school of TS Eliot who said 'Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion; but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.'
Moi, on the other hand, argues that poetry is the supreme expression of personality and emotion. Even if it's 'emotion recollected in tranquility', as Wordsworth put it. I also believe, like William Blake, that a poet is somone who has heard 'The Holy Word', which I take to be some sort of truth, either divine or coming from somewhere so deep inside (or outside) us that it doesn't necessarily make immediate sense.
Robert Graves put it another way. He believed that a poet has 'a source in the primitive. In the prerational.' I agree.
I would also suggest that my friend's take on poetry is in line with the second part of Eliot's statement: 'But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.' My friend puts all the force of his emotions, all the power of his personality, into arguing that they don't exist.
My friend and I will never see eye to eye on poets and poetry but there is one thing we agree on.
Poets in opposition
Whether they're the 'unaknowledged legislators of the world' as Shelley believed or 'crazy alone forever' like Bukowski, true poets oppose by their very nature. Shelley was a radical, political activist and atheist at a time when to be one was a red flag to convention. Bukowski's intensely personal poetry seems to be about nothing more than poverty, endless boozing, going to the track and loving insane women. But it's really an attack on the great American Lie-trap that work makes you free.
Today we need divinely inspired, radically oppositional poets more than ever. We need poets who speak out against the grotesqueries of world politrix, the rapacity of business, the con of the disruptive sharing economy, the sheer mindlessness of our famous-for-breathing culture. We need poets who remind us that we can see creatures in the shrubbery without Pokemon Go.
The problem is that, as we know, no-one reads poetry anymore. So what do we do?
Rock and roll poets
The other night I was watching the it shouldn't happen to a Vietnam vet movie Born on the 4th of July. There was a scene in a bar with a girl singing Dylan's 'A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall'. She wasn't up to much but I'd forgotten just how powerful a song it is. It sent shivers, dear.
Like all our rock and rollers, Dylan is an Inc now, every bit as pathological as any other you'd care to mention. A Bono or Neil Young might be ever-so-slightly provocative on stage but he's more likely to put his mouth where his money is than the other way round. (At least Dylan has the grace not to comment on anything anymore.) And, if you're a young person going into rock and roll, your accountant is your guru.
Rock and roll is part of the entertainment industry so, by definition, it can't be oppositional. We won't find our poets there anymore.
The poetic springs eternal
If we despair, we despair of ourselves. Assuming we do believe in true poets and pure poetry, we need to remember that it springs from the way some of us are wired. There will always be people who are outsiders, lone wolves by nature. As long as there's language some of them will express their difference in poetry.
A month or so ago I met a person just like this, a true poet in the unlikeliest of guises. Words have saved her, for the time being. Meeting her restored my faith in the poetic spirit. So keep your ears wide open, people. And, who knows, your true poet may even be yourself.
Meanwhile, clic on the pic and dig a great reggae version of 'Hard Rain'.