This bold statement was made by a friend of my wife when we visited him in his rural retreat. I shall call him Alfred. Having published quite a few poems in my time this gave me pause for thought. What had I done? What had I published? Plainly I didn’t know what I was doing.
The basis of Alfred’s view was that the recognition of poetry as a category was the result of snobbery. He saw no difference between poetry and prose, or if he did he refused to recognise it. There seemed to be a class basis underlying his attitude, yet I had never come across a socialist making this claim. Nor a communist. Even that nice man, Uncle Joe Stalin, had written poetry. So I assumed that this was a personal view shared by few. (You have probably noticed that ‘view’ rhymes with ‘few’, but we all make mistakes.)
In the class warfare between poetry and prose, Alfred was plainly siding with the oppressed masses. An interesting choice. Maybe I forgot to mention that his rural retreat contained an indoor swimming pool and a cinema.
When I got back home I thought some more about this, and wasted time composing a rebuttal, starting with the demonstrable fact that poetry existed long before prose and exploring other areas of note, including a brief tour of the four-stress alliterative line as used in Old and Middle English, before stealing purposefully towards the present day where – I admit – I hit the occasional problem, such as certain poems which seemed to me (and I had to agree with Alfred there) prose by any other name divided into lines on a wholly arbitrary basis.
Right, so some poems are prosaic, but that does not invalidate the majority which are not.
In the main I felt I had a good case and sent it to him. Not long afterwards I received a brief reply to the effect that he ‘took my point’ (I had made several) and concluding with the words ‘But I still think . . .’
And this is what is called a meeting of minds.