Launch Welcome, 28th July 2016
Welcome to Maurice Rutherford's mainly poetry website. Why Poetry? Because poetry happens. For me it came during my mid- to late-fifties, like this:-
Since schooldays' learning poetry by rote, I had given little or no thought to the subject until the day when, as editor of a charity's branch newsletter I decided to print an amusing anecdote I'd heard, and did so in verse, signed 'anon'. When my clever, funny and witty masterpiece was criticized by a chap who happened to be a grammar school teacher "because it doesn't rhyme and it doesn't scan", my pride seriously wounded, I shot off to the public library to read books of poems and books of how to write poems. In one of the anthologies, I came across for the first time poems which seemed written especially for me, by wartime Services personnel with experiences parallel to my own. I was hooked. I read and wrote and practised until at length I felt I could write a half decent poem, and I grew, and still feel, unbounded gratitude towards that schoolmaster critic. I submitted my work to various poetry publications, and entered poetry competitions to test the reaction, progressing from an occasional commendation, through many failures and rejections, to eventual podium successes in minor open poetry competitions such as Bassetlaw, Newbury, Ripley and Surrey, and inclusion in various journals, among them About Larkin, Critical Survey, London Magazine and Poetry Review.
A couple of courses at the Arvon Foundation's Lumb Bank were richly rewarding with experience, friendships and contacts and, resulting from one of these, one cold winter morning saw me motoring through the snow over the Pennines from Grimsby to Manchester to record my poem Irreverence (about the fleet of laid-up trawlers condemned to rust in redundancy resulting from the Icelandic Cod Wars) for broadcasting on BBC Radio Three's 'Poetry Now', a monthly twenty minutes programme of interval readings for G & T time between the two halves of classical music concerts. More recently I was delighted when Carol Rumens chose my poem The Autumn Outings for her Guardian Poem of the Week blog. Poetry, in both the reading and writing of it, has been very kind to me, adding extra meanings to my life, and the poets Alan Brownjohn, Charles Causley, Robert Graves, Philip Larkin, Ken Smith and R.S.Thomas were, and still are, major contributors.
Welcome to share in my mainly poetry website, pull up a chair, add a favourite poem, make a comment, and be assured that, when you offer criticism, if in my nineties I haven't matured sufficiently to accept it gracefully, I am certainly far too old to shoot off to the library in a sulk!
On the subject of poetry-writing, Roy Hattersley declared, "...ideas are only part of a poem. How they are expressed is the real test."
As for my own approach, sometimes I have ideas for a poem, but no inkling of what form it might take. It's as if I'm shuffling through the shag-pile under horse chestnut trees, hoping to uncover the bright blink of maroon I can pick up and string together with the conker or two I already have. Serendipity.
Among my favourite quotations about poetry, Arnold Bennett wrote "In the English-speaking countries, the word 'poetry' would disperse a crowd quicker than a fire-hose". I like also Philip Larkin's comparison of prose with poetry, "Novels are about other people and poems are about yourself."
Regarding what happens to the completed works, this was perhaps best expressed by the American poet who wrote, "Publishing a volume of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo."
But when is a work finished ? According to W.H. Auden, "A poem is never finished, only abandoned."
Completed or abandoned, to what purpose ? Listen to Sam Weller in Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers, "Poetry's unnat'ral; no man ever talked poetry 'cept a beadle on boxin' day, or Warren's blackin' or Rowland's oil, or some o' them low fellows." Yet even in the way he speaks he demonstrates that poetry has entered his life. But, of course, via his author, because he is a fictional character, so does this say more for Dickens than for his speaker ? If so, I have a problem because this would seem to be in conflict with Larkin's definition of prose-writing as against poetry. However, I think this tension bodes well for both genres.
The Female Poets
Why are there no women poets included in the roll-call at the close of my 'Welcome' section? Well, truth is it hadn't occurred to me, but I suppose the reason is that having first stumbled across wartime poems written by men, I didn't at the time feel the need to move on from poems which fitted me so well. It was perhaps as if I were shopping in a 'nearly-new' clothes shop and, naturally, I didn't feel drawn to leave the men's department. Not that I'm averse (excuse the pun) to a little poetic cross-dressing, not at all, but my concern in the beginning was the impact of the poems I'd found; the gender of their creators wasn't a consideration.
I have, of course, since read and enjoyed many female poets and they have impressed me just as much as males and, I'm glad to say, in different ways. Returning to the 'transvestite' theme, shirt or blouse, what's in a name; either can be comfortable, so why be choosey? I do, though, prefer a poem which, if not exactly still in vogue, is not much more outdated than the one suit I have kept back for funerals: warm, comfortable, a statement of its day, and not too loud. In this time scale I seldom now go further back than, say, to Stevie Smith (who was born only a couple of avenues away from my birthplace in Hull, and whose memorable poem Valuable would have been written when I was a youngster).
If I now attempted to redress the gender balance, the task would be endless, because many of my favourite poems, whether written by men or women, became firm friends, as did some of their (contemporary) authors. I feel also that any inadvertent omission would be a betrayal of a valued friendship. I dare say, however, that the day will dawn when I can't resist sharing with you some of my loved ones.