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Opinion: Poetry, Art and The Emperor’s New Clothes

September 13, 2012

The starting point for this post is that I have been thinking about Florence and the Machine, and her new-ish album Ceremonials and how I don’t enjoy it as much as her other effort, Lungs. I have been thinking about what the difference between the two albums is for me. I have decided that, apart from employing an appalling number of clichés in the lyrics in this album, Florence simply takes herself too seriously. Gone is the fun; gone are the little songs full of sly dark humour and now there are just what I call giant set-piece tracks. I like sweeping drama and complex orchestration and odd instruments and whatnot– as evidenced by the fact that my favourite band is the British Iona (they’re so clever)– but by my reckoning, Florence has gone and fallen into The Trap.

When I was at Art School, I saw The Trap illustrated when my family would come to view our school art exhibitions. They would look at the work of the senior students who had nailed a doll’s head to a plank or thrown toilet paper at a canvas or piled up a mish-mash of junk and just kind of blink.  Afterwards, my brother would carefully balance a pen on top of a coffee mug and, pointing at it, grandly declare: “That’s ART, that is.” And we would all laugh, because, yeah, it was about as ridiculous as what we had just seen in parts of the exhibition. I would point out that the artists had been through a thought process and were probably expressing something deeply meaningful to them through their work. I would also agree with them that I didn’t see such expressions as ART, though, because they excluded the viewer.

I like to experience the creative endeavours of others and I always feel free to interpret them in my own way. Sometimes I want to know what the creator was thinking; sometimes I don’t. It doesn’t matter if it says fifty things to fifty viewers. The important thing is that the work speaks.


My most non-figurative painting to date. It’s basically a branch and flames and a word- ‘everywhere’ . Inspired by Rich Mullins’ song ‘Everywhere I go I see You’ (meaning God). I was thinking about Moses and the burning bush, among other things. I was also experimenting with what I know of colour theory.

Sometimes the work simply says I know something you don’t and you are excluded because you don’t belong and you’re not smart enough or educated enough and, anyway, I am enjoying feeling superior. That shows an artist who has fallen into The Trap. Their work is not ART because you can’t have a conversation with an egomaniac; all artistic expression is, at its core, a two-way conversation.

Poetry is a type of creative expression that is problematic for me– to the extent that I do my best to avoid reading most of it at all costs. I think I just don’t have the right kind of brain to appreciate poems. I once offended a woman because she wanted me to read her poem and tell her what I though of it. I refused, explaining that I probably wouldn’t appreciate it and she probably wouldn’t like my opinion of her little creation. If I read a modern poem, I usually want to throw up my hands and ask why I broke my rule and wasted minutes of my time when I know better.

There are poems that are very famous and are just a collection of words that don’t mean anything to anyone except the poet (probably). Further, there are rafts of academics who have (somehow) secured funding to analyse these creations and then bore us with their findings. All I can think of is ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. The Very Superior Poet is probably laughing in and toasting the gullibility of the ‘elite’ who are pretending to see where there is nothing at all, for fear of appearing uncultured.

Some poems I do like, however. Most of them are by Lewis Carroll and are in Alice In Wonderland or Through The Looking-Glass. They are kind of rambly and kind of nonsensical and a bit silly but are not without meaning. I don’t know if what I get out of them matches Carroll’s (opium influenced) intent, but it doesn’t matter. Here ends the post, officially, but if you feel like it, read my favourite poem– tis quite long. Read it aloud. Go on 🙂 (I had a bit of formatting trouble, so verse-breaks are indicated by the change to and from italics.)

The Aged Aged Man (or A-sitting on a Gate) by Lewis Carroll

I’ll tell thee everything I can;

There’s little to relate.

I saw an aged aged man,

A-sitting on a gate.

“Who are you, aged man?” I said.

“and how is it you live?”

And his answer trickled through my head

Like water through a sieve.

He said, “I look for butterflies

That sleep among the wheat:

I make them into mutton pies,

And sell them in the street.

I sell them unto men,” he said,

“Who sail on stormy seas;

And that’s the way I get my bread —

A trifle, if you please.”

But I was thinking of a plan

To dye one’s whiskers green,

And always use so large a fan

That they could not be seen.

So, having no reply to give

To what the old man said,

I cried, “come, tell me how you live!”

And thumped him on the head.

His accents mild took up the tale:

He said, “I go my ways,

And when I find a mountain-rill,

I set it in a blaze;

And thence they make the stuff they call

Rowland’s Macassar Oil —

Yet twopence-halfpenny is all

They give me for my toil.”

But I was thinking of a way

To feed oneself on batter,

And so go on from day to day

Getting a little fatter.

I shook him well from side to side,

Until his face was blue:

“Come tell me how you live,” I cried

“And what is it you do!”

He said, “I hunt for haddocks’ eyes

Among the heather bright,

And work them into waistcoat buttons

In the silent night.

And these I do not sell for gold

Or coin of silvery shine,

But for a copper halfpenny,

And that will purchase nine.

“I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,

Or set limed twigs for crabs;

I sometimes search the grassy knolls

For wheels of Hansom-cabs.

And that’s the way” (he gave a wink)

“By which I get my wealth —

And very gladly will I drink

To your Honour’s noble health.”

I heard him then, for I had just

Completed my design

To keep the Menai bridge from rust

By boiling it in wine.

I thanked him much for telling me

The way he got his wealth,

But chiefly for his wish that he

Might drink to my noble health.

And now, if e’er by chance I put

My fingers into glue,

Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot

Into a left-hand shoe,

Or if I drop upon my toe

A very heavy weight,

I weep, for it reminds me so

Of that old man I used to know —

Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow

Whose hair was whiter than the snow,

Whose face was very like a crow,

With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,

Who seemed distracted with his woe,

Who rocked his body to and fro,

And muttered mumblingly and low,

As if his mouth were full of dough,

Who snorted like a buffalo —

That summer evening long ago,

A-sitting on a gate.


From → Opinion, Rant

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