genre bending

I’m reading an interesting book from my daughter’s library – The Uses of Poetry, by Denys Thompson, Cambridge Press, 1974 (yikes). It’s one of those great little books that somehow survives librarian purges despite the fact it hasn’t been signed out since 1978!

Here’s the blurb from the back cover,

this is an account of the part played by poetry in the life of man from earliest times to the present. Older than prose, it was the vehicle for his technology, history, philosophy and science; it helped him feel at home in his environment; it was the social cement between him and his fellows… [he] goes on to consider the impact of printing when in [the author’s] view poetry became subtler but ceased to be a popular possession. However, Mr. Thompson shows, poetry could still be of value in helping people to cope with the strains of living, in assimilating the implications of vast new fields of knowledge, and in keeping alive the idea of humanity in a dehumanising age.

interesting to read these themes from 3 decades ago.

His first paragraph of the book makes me pause as it’s something I struggle with all the time – my work being heavily narrative, and one collection that I’m working on, the Lewis Chessmen, being described by readers/listeners, as a saga

There is little point in trying to site a dividing line between the territories of poetry and prose, for some of the corralled inmates will leap over any barrier. Dickens in his novels broke into verse in more than one place… Elliot too wrote a kind of verse in Adam Bede… moreover poemes trouvees [sorry about the lack of accents] can be found in scientific prose…

Thompson then quotes Elizabeth Sewell’s arrangement in in verse form, Linnaeus’ Mollusca.

I suppose the question is, does it really matter? Isn’t good writing good writing? But I suppose one could launch into endless debates about what is good writing.

As a musician, I see the world of music not fragmented, but with the grace of technology and access to both audience and artist made easier with said technology, that there is an openness to genre/style etc. Just this morning I was listening to National Public Radio out of the U.S. and they featured a Mexican band that lives in Chicago who are up for a Grammy tonight. They cover trad. Mexican music, but also have covered Led Zepplin etc… and totally shocked people with how well they have broken down the barriers and cast shapes with the material.

I’m currently working on a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing in a jazz style. Let’s see if it works!

but what about poetry….


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