Poetry for Remembrance

Poppies photographed by Sue Watling

D-Day veteran Dennis B Wilson, nearly 70 years after writing poems on the front line, has published  Elegy of a Common Soldier, a book of WW2 poetry.   The website http://dennisbwilson.com contains Mr Wilson’s Plea for ‘Real’ Poetry where he describes modern poetry as ‘incomprehensible to all but a few’.

‘It seems to me to be completely pointless, and a waste of time, to write something that no one else can understand.  A poet is only completely successful if he has awakened in the mind of the reader an echo of his or her own emotional experiences, who may not themselves have been able to put their feelings into words.  I believe that modern poetry shares with modern art the operation of the ‘Emperor’s clothes syndrome,’ whereby many of its adherents do not really understand it but are unwilling to admit their ignorance in case they are thought to be stupid or uninformed.’

Poetry may be one of the most contextual of arts.  While the universality of thoughts, feelings and emotions provide common threads from Catallus to the current day, social influence changes. It helps to read poetry with a sense of the environment it was written in. Challenged by early 20th century modernism, poetic style has been freed from traditional restraints, and for many this is a deterrent to engaging with poetry. For Wilson, modern poetry is not poetry.

‘ It seems to me that to write a passage of prose and then divide it into broken lines at the whim of the writer, (which I assume to be the process involved), presents no difficulty.’

Instead, he calls for a return to metrics.

‘The true poet… has to write his thoughts in words of the correct number of syllables, with the accent in the right places, in a recognizable metric form and, (usually), with words that rhyme where needed’.

Defining poetry is not easy. Like most modern art forms, high degrees of subjectivity can be involved in naming and labelling words as poems. On days like today, 11 November, Armistice Day, the context is paramount.  Poetry for Remembrance provides one of the finest definitions of all.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

From For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon