It's rare that I say this, but I think I feel a haiku* coming on...
Another strange thing:
Welsh people like poetry.
This confuses me.
For a very short while in high school, I decided I was going to be a poet. I decided this based on my ability to produce reams and reams and reams of grumpy non-rhyming free-form poetry dedicated to this or that girl who had broken up with me after two weeks.
"Time with you was perfect --
That was my favourite line. Sadly, it was stolen from Henry Rollins. I'm digressing a bit here, but for a guy who writes a lot about love and relationships and has in his head at least three novels that would explore these subjects, my romantic foundation is a bit odd; it consists almost entirely of Rollins-sentimentalism and Van Morrison.
Needless to say, my poetic ambitions were abandoned when I realised that no one actually likes poetry. No one, that is, but the Welsh.
There's a bloke here named Twm Morys. He's got a massive head and a boozer's nose and when he speaks he sounds as if he's suffering a cold. He's a poet. Partially for reasons already explained**, I'm having trouble finding a good page to link to that would provide information about Twm (pronounced "Tomb" -- how bad-ass is that?), but trust me, he is popular.
He is popular like Soul Coughing were popular in Minnesota. That's a good analogy, actually, because Soul Coughing weren't really popular anywhere else. Similarly, I have never been among any other group of people who actually liked poetry. I've met plenty of people who understood poetry (I can't even put myself in that group), and plenty of people who claimed to like poetry because it made them seem deep; but people who really did "ooh" and "ahh" over verse? Nope.
In Eisteddfod, which is THE MOST IMPORTANT CULTURAL EVENT ON THE PLANET, poets are prized above and beyond novelist scum.
There is a long-running radio programme here that basically consists of two groups of poets competing against one another. Then some terrifyingly old man who sounds like he's breathing through a hole in his neck offers a bit of opinion and the live studio audience clap politely or chuckle knowingly. This is one of Radio Cymru's most popular programmes.
Click about five minutes into this clip and you can hear what I'm talking about. If you listen to the programme long enough, you might notice that all the poets speak in a style that is very similar to the up-and-down "my-words-have-meaning" technique that is so popular among Methodist pastors (If you don't know what that sounds like, here's my best impression of it [I'm reading from the United Methodist church website]. The quality of the recording isn't all that great -- I sound like I'm recording in a moving car -- but you get the idea). This is THE way to read poetry, apparently. People in my course dropped into it when called upon to read bits in class.
One of the reasons I don't have any friends in university is perhaps my sustained shock at the whole love-of-poetry thing. When we were studying barddoniaeth, as it is known, I would turn to the poor girls stuck doing group work with me and ask: "You don't really like this stuff do you?"
For the sour-faced response I got, I could have just as well asked, "So, when are y'all gonna get naked and make out?"
Here, poetry means something. In cultural feeling, it is at the heart of why Wales is so much better than where you're from. They've been reciting poetry in these parts since before your language even existed, son.
*Eric, if you are reading this, I will leave it to you to share the greatest haiku of all time.
**And, yes, it's partially because Twm is a Welsh-language poet. So, any internet links referring to him would be in Welsh. If you read Welsh and somehow don't know who Twm Morys is, here's a page about him from the BBC.