Random Thoughts About Poetry

I have used the phrase ‘random thoughts’ knowing that it is just a cliché (as is the phrase ‘just a cliché’). They are not random in the sense of having popped out of a lottery machine into my mind; but they are not consecutive thoughts; they are not thought out.

There is a character in Patrick White’s Voss who wonders if poetry is just an elaborate practical joke? I rather approve of such wondering. Why is so much poetry so bloody hard to understand? Impossible to understand. From


Half a pound of tupenny rice

Half a pound of treacle

That’s the way the money goes

Pop! goes the weasel



Said the left front ox, suddenly,

‘pnAWH!’ as they tied on his front red band,

St George, two hokey-pokey stands and the unicorn

‘Nicchio! NicchiO-né!!’

The kalypygous Sienese females

get that way from the salite


and so on (Ezra Pound Canto XLIII)

there is a feeling that someone doesn’t want you to know.

(I’m wrong: you didn’t think anything like that when you were an infant chanting pop goes the weasel. That’s what comes of trying to construct an argument rather than allowing random thoughts. If we had thought about it then , we would have decided pretty easily that we preferred the rhymes that baffled us to the one that went Brush brush brush your teeth/ Early in the morning.)

On the subject of nursery rhymes, does anyone else think that the opening of Mozart’s piano sonata in A major (K331) sounds like Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross? I am not joking- I think that this is one of the greatest pieces of music there is, and I think that the opening sounds like Ride a Cock Horse.


And so:

Is poetry just an elaborate practical joke?

Were you to build a house in the way

That modernist poetry was written-

Fragmented, imagistic, alienated-

It would look, on paper at least,

Impractical; a dream-house, yes,

Certainly that, but the sort of dream you want to awake from

And forget.

Were you to remember and actually build the damn thing

Surely whoever lived there would discover

That the roof

And the wiring

And the walls

And so on, were experimental.

The victims of practical jokes don’t laugh;

And then it comes out that it wasn’t a joke at all…


Most of the poet Sappho’s work was lost and some of what has survived are just single words – sweatgoatherdblossom, for example. How can one word of a poem be worth preserving? Would you turn the page, read the word blossom, then close the book and think about it? Read it again? Read the footnotes? Here is a word salvaged from a lost work of my own:


Actually, now I think about it, perhaps that was from a shopping list, not a poem.


One thought on “Random Thoughts About Poetry”

  1. couldnt agree more, a rather clever house built on the principles of poetry would be fine to look at and smile as you appreciate the irony of where the window was placed and its relevance to the gas cooker but would you really want to live in it? Maybe visit it once in a while, although maybe youd visit it because your relatives live there? As for one word poems c/f Yoko Ono, I rest my case. Thank you for these random thoughts


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