After writing my first ever poem, Autumn in rhyming couplets, I discovered a bit later that poems didn’t have to rhyme at all, which made things a lot easier. Three cheers for free verse! It was also possible to write poems about anything, as long as you made them opaque enough for no one to have the faintest clue what they might mean.
In the grunts of inarticulate stars
Bearing the spark of however
Into the night of ignorance and wonder
The epitome of marrow.
That one was inspired by the opening scene in 2001 Space Odyssey. It was about prehistoric cavemen discovering the taste of cooked meat. Not many people got that. The English teacher, Mr. Roberts, certainly didn’t, though he was too polite to say so and he didn’t want to cause any embarrassment by asking me to explain it. Eventually, though, it occurred to me that if I was writing a dozen poems a day with amazing ease, and looking back over them a week later couldn’t remember what they meant myself, then maybe they weren’t poems at all. Maybe they were drivel. There was also, I realised, a fine line between a poet and a pseud, and one or two people, alerted to the distinction by Private Eye (pseud in those days was a popular term of abuse for anyone pretentious or even vaguely intellectual), appeared to be catching on that I’d crossed it. So after a while, I went back to rhymes.
The thing about poetry is that it’s incredibly difficult to write. And the apparent ease of free verse is illusory because “no verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job” (T.S.Eliot). On the other hand, rhyming verse is equally difficult, and less fashionable, as pointed out here by the poet Andy Humphrey. Which is why, on the whole, I stick these days to prose.