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Don't Believe the Hype, Read What You Like

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I've been thinking a bit about publishing lately, and the difference between those published and those passed down through word of mouth and the sheer mass of voices.

Is it really important to even connect a work to a name? And where do I most appreciate 'poetry'?

The answer to that is that I very rarely sit down with a volume of poetry; it can be a very rewarding thing to do but... The poetry that sticks in my brain the most is the words I have encountered and made something from.

I remember a poem stencilled on the wall in a Waterloo underpass, one on a poster in Battersea library, one stencilled to a table at the Koestler exhibition for Offenders. I developed a relationship with a couple of these poems because I encountered them while I was doing something else, and maybe took small parts of them away with me. The exchange was always anonymous, and didn't rely on reading and understanding a whole piece of work and treating it as an important or complete entity. In the case of the Waterloo underpass, I was always walking or riding a bike to work and didn't read the whole poem until nearly ten years after I had first picked up a line on the way past but it stayed with me and suggested possibilities throughout that time.

This morning, as an experiment, I opened a huge anthology of poems, several times, and scanned the page that opened and copied some lines. The whole process took about a minute. The six poems that the lines come from span 1300 years and several continents and were selected very nearly at random (each poem caught my eye, so there is selection at some instinctive level). The fragments made this:

You Plantain

Mother of herbs

Wide open to the East

So strong within

Wagons rode over you.

Red Cassia flowers

are a forest fire,

or so they say.

I met a man once

who had wasted half his life,

partly in exile from himself,

partly in a prison of his own making.

I saw him cheerful

in the universal darkness

as I stood grimly

in my little light.

There is a song, there is a moaning in the song

In the pale moonlight

He carries his bride

Up that hill.

Mainly but not exclusively opening and closing lines, selected with only the dimmest selective switch turned on, translated from Tamil, 'India', and places I can't tell you unless I go back through a 1500 page book of 'World Poetry', for me this represents a future beyond or along side our publishing age, as well as a very rich tradition. And I strongly believe that if this generated poem was made into a poster and stuck around London that it would catch the imagination of a very wide range of passers by in a very wide range of different ways.