My university tutor said to me once, ‘a poem is a poem because the poet says it is’. In that simple declarative sentence a wall that had been built many years before fell down. I heard the mortar crumble, the bricks collide, the dirt spew out. And I felt excited. Poetry, without rules. What a new concept.
I had always hated poetry, you see. I found it difficult to understand. Why didn’t they just say what they wanted to say? I hated rules. I hated order. That was how poetry was offered to me. Alliteration, enjambement, rhyme, haiku, sonnet. It seemed there was only one way to write it. One door to go through. So, I built a wall.
I saw the big fat novel as the supreme. Brevity mattered not. I even gave some respect to the ‘Paradise Lost’s of the world. The bigger, the better, or so they say. (I imagine this has something to do with my sex). Small poems. Snapshots. Moments. Visions. These were not to my liking.
I’m still new to the game of poetry to feel comfortable calling myself a poet. Imposter syndrome sets in. For I have had a complicated history with the mighty mistress that is poetry. But when the wall came down, poetry slowly returned. It was not a reuniting – as this was never a love story – but it was a coming together. Stanza by stanza, word by word, poet by poet, poetry became a friend I didn’t need to guard myself against.
Brevity became key. The smaller, the better. To say something with less words. To grab someone in a moment, to create a snapshot, to guide them to a vision became the ultimate. I will not say short poems are now superior – there are no rules as I have discovered – but every word counted. Every word counts. The power of words returned. The word play and decision making.
A word can muster a thousand thoughts. A poem can create a universe.
My coming together made me fall in love with Carol Ann Duffy’s works, I found Lucille Clifton and felt everything was going to be alright, I had my heart broken by Brian Patten, I lived in New York during the Beat generation with Allen Ginsburg, watched the birds with Ted Hughes, raged against the coming of the light with Dylan Thomas.
The power of poetry is its timeliness. Poetry endures. It survives the wars, the natural disasters, the harshness of aging. It survives foolish kings and queens, prime ministers and presidents, tsars and popes. It survives dictatorships, genocide, corruption. It survives injustice. It survives cancer. Poetry is everywhere, no matter how much you avoid it. Poetry adapts. Poetry attacks. Poetry breathes. Poetry is fluid.
Poetry waits. For me in an attic room among terrace houses and flapping welsh dragon flags to the wheat-smelling cobbled streets of Scotland where poetry hangs in the air. Poetry travels. Poetry is patient. The power of poetry resides with its inability to be defined.
My poem is a poem because I say it is. And I am free.
Thomas Stewart is a welsh writer. He is based in Edinburgh where he works as an English teacher. ’empire of dirt’, his debut poetry pamphlet, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2019. His poetry, short stories and essays have been featured in The Glasgow Review of Books, Oh Comely, Litro, Ink, Sweat & Tears, among others. His poem ‘Calamity Jane’ was highly commended in the 2020 Verve Poetry Competition. He was an artist in residence at Arteles, Finland. He can be found at @ThomasStewart08