The Slow Poetry Movement has taken some time to get going. From its inception amongst a group of itinerant verse-mongers making their way through the forests of Upper Silesia in the early 19th Century, the movement has grown to have virtually no presence at all. Adherents, amongst whose number I count myself, are planning to do a little proselytizing next Tuesday if the weather holds fine. We shall re-read poems we love from books we treasure and we shall not mention this to anyone. But then again, we might not.
What is the Slow Poetry Movement? Oh, blimey, can I be bothered to tell you? Alright, I will. Well, it is based on the notion that much of the poetry world is caught up in capitalist modes of production and distribution which, if we don’t have a care, will destroy the very qualities of poetry that we hold so dear. The SloPoMo (as we are wont to call it), suggests that to encourage the constant and increasing production and consumption of poetry is not necessarily entirely good, and may do more to reduce our happiness than increase it.
The SloPoMo suggests that perfectly good poems may be written slowly and that this slow-gestation, this laying-down of the lines to mature, often brings a good poem into existence. By extension, the SloPoMo suggests that poems are best read slowly and better still, read many times over across an extended period of time. Why, they say, drink ten pints of poor beer in quick succession, when one can savour a half-a-glass of finely brewed ale and be gifted the pleasure of full flavour without the expense or hangover of over-indulgence. And why not have a packet of artisanal salt ‘n’ vinegar crisps, while you’re at it?
The quick-witted amongst you – so that’s everyone, for I know no dullards – will have realised that adherence to this notion might result in a reduced demand for poems and books of poetry. Well, this is true, but members of the SloPoMo would argue that we are not involved in poetry to produce but to experience, and to experience as deeply as possible the pleasures and illuminations that can unfold from spending time with a poem. There is some sense in this, and many an ‘old-timer’ (I count myself one of these, too) will talk of the happiness that comes with knowing a poem for years or decades. What’s more, they say, in these straightened times it is rather good value for money. ‘Thrift, thrift, Horatio!’
The alternative approach is, of course, worth considering. The industry already encourages relentless production of poems – and I should admit to being part of that industry – and as a result many splendid ‘poetry mountains’ have sprung up, formed of poems, good but destined to have rather few readers. To encourage people to read as many of these poems as possible, on the surface looks to be a reasonable response. That this might necessitate speed reading and and triumphalism, should not concern us. To read competitively will surely train the muscles of understanding and appreciation and facilitate even faster reading in the future.
Indeed, it has come to my knowledge that a number of reputable publishers are suggesting that their poets had best produce books that are easy to read and require no re-reading. Books, they argue, are a ‘throw-away’ product, fast-food for the culturally ‘time-poor’, therefore the market should be flooded and the units shifted, as I believe the literary-types say. I can see their point and this bodes well for any with shares in such enterprises. I shall speak to my broker directly. Buy! Buy! Buy!
No, I shall not buy the shares, for I want no profit from poetry. Instead, inspired by the quiet partisans and softy-spoken resistance fighters of the Slow Poetry Movement, I shall do my best to read ever more slowly and even to read fewer books. And, while continuing to read and re-read and re-read the poems and the poetry books from which I gain the greatest pleasure, I shall now and then drop a note to a friend in recommendation – and doubtless they shall pass on similar missives – and year by year, decade by decade we shall have a jolly good time.
And the Slow Poetry Movement? Well, its operatives shall move across the land and barely be noticed. They know who they are and you shall know them too. They take the less trodden tracks and do not move in formation. They exchange quiet words with friends and neighbours. They lend and borrow. Their sweet collective voice is never raised. Their absence is more important than their presence. Join them – join us – and be barely noticed too.
Why this article was written & a declaration of connection:
To be frank, having given up entering poetry competitions I had hoped to have escaped most of the competitive aspects of the modern poetry sector. Therefore, the sudden increase in ‘competitive reading’ has found me confused and at time inconsolable. But, of course, I don’t need to join in., so perhaps I should keep my views to myself? Or perhaps I should write a cheerful little fantasy suggesting an alternative way of living.
And so I did and this is it.
The Slow Poetry Movement doesn’t really exist – I invented it, as I invent so much – but having conjured up its name I am rather minded to print some membership cards and perhaps adopt a club song. Brothers and sisters, will you join me?
And then I googled the term ‘slow poetry movement’ and it turns out that the phrase is already being used by a Japanese American chap, so perhaps I’m too late. Damn, I lost the race to start the Slow Poetry Movement… And Nick Laird referenced reading poetry slowly in an article in The Guardian twelve years ago.
But, you know, I really don’t mind. Being late to the party is all part of being on the cutting edge of the SloPoMo.