The term "ordinary people" has come up in Paxman-inspired poetry discussion lately. I confess that I don't meet many ordinary people. Over 50% of Cambridge people have at least a degree (the 3rd highest percentage in the country), so it's not an ordinary place. The local paper sometimes has a poem on the letters page. Here's part of "Pylons" from the latest issue we have
When the weather is clear, no mist or rain|
I can see pylons stomping across the plain
Arms out stretched they stride the land
Or with hands on hips in cornfields stand,
They step over motorways with ease
And straddle roads and lanes where ere they please
I don't know how typical this is of the newspaper's poetry, but I imagine the editors know what goes down well. It's interesting to see how the formal features are dealt with. The rhyme is tight, the rhythm less so - there are 4 beats a line with a variable number of unstressed syllables. There seems little pressure to regularise the rhythm except for the use of "ere" (I presume "e'er" was intended).
The language has rather a "retro" feel - inversions aren't avoided, and compression isn't a priority.
Using pylons in this way as subject matter (rather than writing "Pylon poetry") is tempting - I've done it (though with much less anthropomorphising), and so, I imagine, have many other people. Often the pylons hold skipping ropes. Here they're mostly on the move. The ending's not so different to one of mine in sentiment.
|Strung together for ever more until they reach some distant shore|
I imagine that ordinary people read little contemporary poetry written by "poets". In a way, poems like "Pythons" take advantage of its readers' ordinariness. For that reason (and others) I'd feel rather awkward writing such poetry; exploitative. I wouldn't be writing for my peers.
And yet, I think I do sometimes write for non-poetry readers. Whether they'd be called ordinary is another matter. I have in mind people who have to read or write prose carefully, people prepared to challenge and question. But they won't know about the aims of some modern movements - Flarf, LangPo, etc - and they won't have much patience re Oulipo, minimalism, or anything that looks too much like the literary prose they usually read. So the poetry needs to allude to familiar material, and the aesthetics need to be familiar. Alternatively (and I've tried this too) it can be explained.
I went with my wife to see Luke Wright. His allusions to events and TV programs in his childhood were beyond her. He, John Cooper Clarke, rap artists, Wendy Cope, Pam Ayres and Roger McGough are amongst those who at least sometimes write poetry that ordinary people will pay attention to, though not the same "ordinary people" in each case. And John Cooper Clarke fans probably won't go for "Pylons".