Wednesday, January 24, 2007

2: They like poetry. No, really.

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 --
Never boring,
Never wasted."

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.

17 comments:

Liz said...

I am Welsh (but not speaking).

I am a blogger addict.

I do not understand poetry (I think I have a bit of brain missing - actually some people would say a lot of brain).

Liz said...

Just watched your video. I commented that I would get on with your mother; now I think i am your mother.

heatherfeather said...

i have seen precisely one welsh movie. i saw it when i was living in a town of 1,100 people in maine but lived down the road from a tiny video rental place with a killer foreign film section. i had no cable, and the cable company wasn't going to run cable down my tiny little road to my house. so i rented lots of movies.

anyhow, the film was hedd wyn. about a welsh poet. and a national poetry competition where you win a chair. he won the chair. i'd be spoiling it if i told you he won it posthumously.

i also learned how to say "yes" in english with a welsh accent from this movie.

i learned how to say "carburetor" in english with a welsh accent from an old episode of "whose line is it anyway?" but that tidbit hasn't anything to do with poetry.

Chris Cope said...

Heather -- That poetry competition is the Eisteddfod, which Hedd Wyn won in 1917. The aforementioned Twm Morys won the chair in 2003

Curly said...

Way back in my early school years, one of our teachers took our whole class to see the Black Chair in Hedd Wyn's farm in Trawsfynydd, we had watched the film a week before and it was quite a moving experience. What was amazing, looking back on it, was that our teacher had paid for the whole trip herself - if that isn't passion for poetry, I don't know what is.

Rhys said...

Strange you mention Hedd Wyn, there's an interesting post (well it is to me anyway) about him and the 1917 chair on this blog.

Could be that as it's difficult to publish novels in Welsh (due to limited potential audience) and far easier to publish poetry and the Taliesyn Tradition.

A lot of Welsh poetry is about history, culture, landscape and identity compared to poetry written in English (not that I that much of either).

Crystal said...

from one of my favorite movies:

roses are red
violets are blue
i am schizophrenic
and so am i

Eric said...

Shit,
I just found out I must have known, and now apparently forgotten the best Haiku of all time.
I do know the key to Haiku is to end with the perfect 5 syllable line:
I like it a lot
For instance,

Beer is delicious
Barley and Hops from the Earth
I like it a lot

Note the nature reference in the second line. With verse like that I could be famous in Wales. Is that like a band being huge in Belgium?

Chris Cope said...

Actually, now that I think of it, Eric, you are the master of haiku -- most ending with "I like it a lot" -- so you may not remember my favourite:
"One two three four five.
One two three four five six sev;
One two three four five."

I hereby encourage all posters to provide a haiku of their own.

a. fortis said...

Here's my comment in the form of a haiku.

Didn't Soul Coughing
Sing that "Super Bon Bon" song?
Not a bad ditty.

The only line I can remember is "take the elevator to the mezzanine and super bon bon..." I have no idea what that means. Apparently Soul Coughing had a moment in the sun in the San Francisco area.

heatherfeather said...

what's extra fun is to juxtapose "superbonbon" with ricky martin's "shake your bon bon."

also, to sing "step aside and let the mango through".

Kerry said...

I've found several activities I couldn't sit still long enough to do when I was younger, but now can. Knitting comes to mind. When I was younger I could not finish a project. Now I seem to have more patience and although I still must always be 'doing something', sitting and knitting falls into that category. Nevertheless, I never just knit; it is always coupled with listening to a book on Ipod or watching a football game or movie. The problem with poetry is that it cannot be multi-tasked. Maybe when I am approaching 100 I will be able to sit still enough to enjoy poetry.

Poetry, contemplation in depth
Requires focus but is
Not for those who Do

bryan torre said...

I did write this kind of hybrid poem one time...


The limerick said, quite dejected,
“As poetry I’m not respected.
No poem’s refined
that has such short lines,
except for haiku.”


Do I win a chair?

PS. If "hybrid" isn't a Welsh word, it should be granted honorary status as such.

bebynnag said...

Hey don't knock Soul Coughing. They were good.

Ifan M Jones said...

Twm Morys turned up at my house when I was about 6 dressed up as a pirate, and gave me a smelly treasure map. I still have it, and it is still a bit whiffy.

My favourite personal Twm Morys moment came at a gig when he refused to sing the song someone wanted, and that person swore at him. There was a terrible shocked silence before someone said: "He's a prifardd*, who some respect." (*Eisteddfod chair-winning poet.)

Nic Dafis said...

I know I'm posting into the void here, but I had a dream about Twm the other night. He was a bit drunk, and scribbled some strange symbols on my cheeks, at the bus station.

Twm was also in my first ever Welsh speaking dream. He was working on the door at Clwb Ifor Bach, and I had to convince him that I was a "proper" Cymro before he'd let me in. As heavy-handed symbolic dreams about linguistic insecurity go, this was pretty much on the button.

He's a nice bloke though. When he stepped in for Gerallt Lloyd Owen (the "hole in his neck" guy - also a revered bardic icon) on a recent Talwrn y Beirdd, he gave my partner 10 out of 10 for her englyn. She was most chuffed.

Poetry is the old rock'n'roll.

Desperate Middle Aged Man said...

I too have dreamed about Twm Morys many times. Usually they are tremendously significant dreams about my acceptability i'r cymuned Cymraeg, which is latterly less than it was. There you go. I'm sure Twm features in many peoples's dreams with this function. He's a highly significant guy.