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Ray Fenech was born in the small fishing village of St. Julian's, Malta and embarked on his writing career when he was still in his early teens. He freelanced for two major political papers, Il-Mument and In-Nazzjon and between 1980-85 worked as a journalist with Malta's leading newspaper, The Times.

Since then he has always worked in the media field carrying out public relations work for several leading companies and between 1999 and 2001 edited two nation-wide distributed magazines, Living 2000 and The Globe Trotter. Now, he runs his own business in copywriting, PR and advertising.

Ray has published poems, essays, short stories and articles in Malta, Sicily, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina. Some of his research on ghost stories were recently published in The International Directory of the Most Haunted Places by Penguin Books in the USA. Ray writes in a language everyone can understand, without mincing words or losing his way in philosophical and poetic techniques, too academic for the majority reader. He believes what Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway believed that the most important equipment for a writer is "a built-in, shock-proof shit detector".

ESSAY: POETRY AS A COMMUNICABLE MEDIUM

Poetry should be like child talk, simple like the first steps of a toddler, as he launches himself into a space walk; and stunning like his very first fall. It should cry out words that are communicable, words that will sooth any sadness or inspire happiness, leaving an alerted mind.

Wordsworth and Coleridge once remarked that common life happenings should be described in “the language really used by men”.

These are some of the thoughts, or rather ingredients that I think should make a good poem. Some poetry today is so vague and abstract that in the end, only the poet himself will know exactly what he meant by it. This type of poetry offers a challenge to the critic and the result of the poem’s interpretation will usually be as numerous as the number of critics.

Poetry should be mind provoking.
Daring.
Inspire creativity.
Kill pain with words.
Be therapeutic.
Relieve the body and soul.
Communicate through expression.
Be capable of unifying beauty and horror to make them one entity.
Fire the mind and soul.
Poetry should be a way of looking at the world from the outside.
Poetry should be alive and passionate, represent the essence of life.
It should interpret humanity.
Keep man within reach of reality yet serve as a bridge to wonderland.
Poetry blooms and dies like a flower, but grows again and again until it becomes immortal making men immortal too.
It is sublime and enriches with age like wine.
Poetry should be wise without being pedantic and academic.
It should give without taking, serving as an eye opener.
It should be like cultured Extra Sensory Perception (ESP).

It should show without telling; direct the mind into an “out of the body experience,” on an endless journey of exploration.

Poetry is an art as vast as the universe. Through poetry one should be capable (as William Blake wrote), “To see a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, / Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand / And Eternity in an hour.”

A waitress should be able to achieve inspiration from a plate and the writing should be good enough to change the reader and the way he looks at things from a mundane point of view. Things change their dimension and shape when viewed from another angle. A poet is different from normal people because he has the ability of looking at things from an unusual point of view. But “unusual” does not mean abstract or vague. Recently, the editor of a leading Australian literary magazine complained to me personally, saying that he had more submissions than subscriptions and that there were more people writing poetry than reading it.

I visited the magazine’s web site and found that the poems published in back issues addressed only the poets who wrote the work, and a few critics and academics no doubt. So it is no wonder that persons of average intelligence did not care to buy this magazine.

What I read in this publication was boring and not communicable. The poems sounded heavy and thrived on the one million dollar words, as Ernest Hemingway would have called them. What I read did not touch my inner most feelings and I could not associate what the poets were saying with any incident or accident through which I have been through in my lifetime. What I read left me cold and indifferent and there was no telling one poem from the other, because all poets in this supposedly leading literary publication had one thing in common, they seemed to excel in ambiguity.

The value of poetry should not just be based on its capability to rhyme and the genius of inventive technique. Poetry should be weighed by its qualitative communicability.

Robert Frost said: “there are two kinds of language – the spoken language and the written language … words exist in the mouth not in books! The vocabulary may be what you please, though I like it not too literary; but the tones of voice must be caught fresh and fresh from life.”

There are many people who think that high-flown, abstract words gives their poetry greater distinction, but in fact things will end up working the other way round because vagueness is very much next to meaningless. Of course expert poets do use abstract words at times, but I think they are finding out at their own expense that today these technical tricks are no longer the ideal tool to lure readers to buy their books.

Even Ezra Pound in his do’s and don’ts wrote the following:

“Poetry should be written at least as well as prose.
Language is an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought.
Go in fear of abstractions.
Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.
Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace”. It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.
A narrative is all right so long as the narrator sticks to words as simple as dog, horse, sunset.”

The era of critics serving as a sieving system between writer and the public is coming to an end. With desktop and self publishing technology available every where, writers and poets are finding easier access to the public, without the need to go through the parochial systems of publishing that were determined by leading academics, critics and editors. Thanks to this modern age, a lot of talent which otherwise would have been lost has come to the fore and acquired the recognition it deserved. Now, readers have the opportunity to decide for themselves what is good and what is bad, the results obtained sometimes going directly in the opposite direction to what academics would have otherwise predicted.

Some poetry books are bought because of the influence shed by leading critics telling people how good they are. Other books sell because of the reputation of the authors, even if the content is not worth the paper it is printed on.

The truth is that most readers fall victims of these critics and waste good money on books that serve no other purpose except that of gathering dust forgotten on shelves or in some remote drawer. This is one of the reasons, which has earned poetry that certain unpopularity which is constantly plaguing our society today.

Arnold writes: “Poetry, is nothing less than the most perfect speech of man, that in which he comes nearest to being able to utter the truth.” So if men are to understand this truth they must first understand the message in the poem. Otherwise poetry will be considered merely a capricious and spontaneous venting of verbal diarrhoea, which will leave no one the better for its creation.

Simonides, the master of the matured Greek lyric and the earliest of the supreme Athenian poets considered poetry as “a speaking picture”. There is so much to inspire thought in this short definition. Here the poet refers to poetry as an audiovisual art, all the more reason why it should be communicable for all to read and be able to visualise at the same time.

Having worked as a writer/journalist and having had the opportunity of speaking about poetry to so many people from so many different walks of life, I have come to the conclusion that inaccessible poetry has made men dislike it. At one point in time, this became so bad that various literary movements felt it was necessary to organise poetry-reading events in pubs, bookshops and town halls in order to re-install the popularity of poetry. The People’s Poetry Movement, which has also acted as a medium between the people and poets, has played a very important role in this resurgence of making pop poetry.

For some poets, getting published is a priority, but what counts at the end of day is that the writer’s message reaches as many a wide an audience as possible. Otherwise poetry will keep on being written for poets, academics and critics, in which case, poetry would have a very dull future ahead of it, if any.

“I hoped to write poems as pliant as conversation, so clear a listener might get every word, and I would … Life Studies is heightened conversation, not a concert.” (from Collected Prose by Robert Lowell).

Poets should remember the origins of poetry – that it was used as a means of entertainment to those who were illiterate and that people, the masses, have every right to be able to enjoy what poets write. After all poets are meant to be entertainers and just like novelists they have a very important mission: to urge people to read and appreciate a good book. It takes courage to write for the man in the street and those who do, risk being hurt when dealing with humanity in all its various conditions and levels of life.

© Canadian Federation of Poets