I was taken to task for having contradicted myself in my last blog posting, for saying that I thought that there was no such thing as a real poet, then suggesting what I thought a real poet might be.
The person who reproached me is a scientist, and, I suppose, is used to understanding things in concrete terms. But I know him to be someone of subtle intellect, and good humour. For this reason I was surprised he did not see my flagrant contradiction as playful.
I like to think of myself as a rationalist. When young I was drawn to science as a way of understanding things, and at fourteen had decided that religion was superstition. Anyone who has encountered my lamentable lack of mathematical skills will understand why I became a poet and not a scientist.
Language can do many things, and words can take you where it is not possible to go, which is something I find attractive. The Goon Show or the writings of Lewis Carroll are fine examples that frequently exhibit a kind of logical absurdity.
Then there is Flann O' Brien, of course, one of whose characters in The Third Policeman said “People who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycles as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.”
I think a little absurdity (or playfulness) is essential, and too much reality a bad thing. Absurdity loosens us up, encourages us to break the bounds of our thoughts, and see things as if they were new. Perhaps that is why poetry attracted me. It requires at least some contact with the world of facts, but is at its best when it reaches beyond them (not necessarily as far as the absurd) to a more elusive sense of what it feels like to be alive. In my case, not as far as the supernatural, or religion, but it feels to me as if poetry partakes of the best of those opposites (and I think they are opposites) of science and religion.
For that reason two of my favourite poets are the Americans Wallace Stevens and John Ashbery, both of whom add a powerful imaginative dimension to our perception of the everyday world, real or unreal, and many might find John Ashbery's world absurd. Both of them exhibit a good deal of playfulness, albeit that in Stevens' case it is often well tucked in behind a more sober façade. If you haven't already, try them, and see what you think?