ACUMEN’S EDITOR THINKING ALOUD
‘Write about what you know’. So often have I heard this advice being
given to new (young and old) poets. And I’ve often wondered if this is
why I get so many ‘lifeless’ poems about mundane activities: walking by
the sea, shopping, dusting the room, cooking, driving, etc etc.
The better poets write about these activities and lift the poetic
content of their poems by using strong adjectives, adverbs and other
descriptive devices. These poems can be interesting and often find their
way into magazines for their strong use of language. In fact, so often do
these type of poems get into print that they have almost become the
But let’s now come to this point from a different angle. Coleridge
said that the mere use of new words without deepening the poem was
an act of the fancy. What was needed was the imagination to go beyond
the surface of a poem – no matter how mundane – and reach the vital
living essence. And it is this use of the imagination which penetrates
the poem and forms an act of creation, the poem becoming
something new and vital to its readers. Anything else he argued, was
no more than memory, attractively organised but still memory.
Going back many more years than I care to remember, I went
to see the film, ‘Anna and the King of Siam’. The children in the film
loved Anna, but she taught them that there were more countries in
the world than Siam, and explained about ‘snow’. They laughed at her
and wouldn’t believe that such a substance existed. But when she was
leaving, one of the small children pulled at her skirt, asking her not to
go. ‘I believe in snow,’ he said. That child had used his imagination.
Children do use imagination all the time, just listen to their games
and chatter. But somehow, as they grow, it seems to become hidden,
buried inside a great ball of what is termed reality. It takes poets and
poetry to chip away at this ball and liberate the imagination. So come
on poets, get away from mundaneity and give us more real poetry.