Viva Voce

…from the Author:

I write poetry as a form of pleasurable mental discipline, but I do not consider myself to be a poet in the literary sense. I’ve never been a candidate for the ranks of the consumptive legions who have coughed away their lives in dingy garrets, gaunt-faced and haggard from the angst of struggling to express their haunted visions in mere words. I write verse – archaic, anachronistic, outmoded and rhyming verse – because it pleases me, and I have long since learned to live with the stunned (and pained) expressions of the literati who perceive, and deplore, this flaw in me. I can be philosophical about their distaste – as in, “Hey, I write it for fun. There’s no law says you have to read it, but if you choose to do so, please don’t feel constrained, or qualified, to criticise.”

One quirk I do admit to, however, and it is this: rhyming verse and narrative verse is an outmoded poetic form, strict and rigid in its construction according to the rules of rhythm, prosody and scansion. Prosody and scansion look like alien words nowadays, seldom seen and never mentioned in polite company, but I learnt them in school, not that long ago. They deal with the rhythmic synthesis of verse and rhyme, and they are as exact as two thousand years of growth and tradition in the English language can make them. The quirk I refer to is one that annoys me intensely, and I don’t know if the fault lies at my own door or at the door of the current, younger generation who have been educated without prosody and scansion. Such people refer to rhyming verse – and always scathingly – as doggerel. That offends me and I have to bite my tongue before replying to any mention of it, reminding myself that the ignorance is not theirs, but must be laid at the door of their benighted teachers.

Writing verse is hard work, and the better the verse, the more intense the effort to produce it. Its construction requires a thorough, working knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling and poetic structure…skills that are seldom or little taught in modern schools. Verse writing also requires discipline and a vocabulary of more than five hundred words. When it is successful, the result is delightful and pleasing. Good, strong, fluent verse is invariably pleasurable to read and to listen to when it is read or recited. Doggerel, on the other hand is bad verse, plain and simple. It is plodding, weak, rhythmically unsound, sloppy, predictable and usually embarrassing. Look it up, it’s in the dictionary. Not all verse is doggerel, but doggerel is always, by definition, very bad verse. That means you, personally, might choose to reconsider using the term lightly, because when you do, you’ll be offering grievous insult to the writer.

Having said all that, it only remains for me to admit that this section of the site is a blatant exercise in self-indulgence, and yet it is dedicated to one particular man, a gentleman called Hugh Ferry who lives nowadays in Glasgow, Scotland, and has no idea that I regard him as highly as I ever have anyone.

Hugh Ferry was the most riveting teacher I ever had, and I discovered him in Grade Ten [the Fourth Form was the Scottish equivalent] when he stormed in to our classroom on my particular Day of Revelation and demanded to know which of us did not like poetry. We were a class of forty fifteen-year-old boys, and none of us did, which was only natural in that time and place. But Hugh Ferry proceeded to convert me, at least, to the opposing viewpoint – an astounding metamorphosis – in the space of one short lesson.

Hugh Ferry made poetry vibrant! He conjured with it and churned it into life and then threw us all, headlong, into the maelstrom he created, so that we could never again look at the printed poem with boredom or disinterest. He drew his teaching from the oral tradition of the Celts, so that we, his students, rode and fought with Sir Walter Scott’s knights, Marmion and Lochinvar, and fled from the witches with Robert Burns’s Tam O’ Shanter; we felt the sea’s surge with Sir Patrick Spens and the Ancient Mariner, and our throats swelled with thirst waiting for the Relief of Lucknowe. And with each poem, Hugh Ferry fed us dates; the dates of the poet’s birth and death; publication dates of the poems; the dates of the events described in the poem; and even dates, like those in 1066 And All That, created simply to make the poems memorable. And they were, and are memorable. I remember most of them today. Their literary qualities might have fallen into disrepute since the days of my youth, but their immediacy and their power have never left me.

And so the poems I write are shaped in that tradition. The oral tradition. They are written for the voices of readers, not for the eyes of literary critics. A few of them are included here, for your perusal and, I hope, your enjoyment. Should you wish to comment on any or all of them, or on poetry in general, go ahead, but don’t expect me to throw myself headlong into changing what’s already here.

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