Irritable Bard Syndrome (IBS)

I’m just wading my way through Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled at long last. I’m in two minds about it. On the one hand, I now know what some of the jargon more academic poets use actually means (though, as a scientist, I suggest that “feet” and “meter” should not be bandied in the same breath). On the other hand I ask, will it make any difference to the way I write poetry? Not much. One can write perfect metered verse that is as dead as a [insert very boring dead thing of your choice here]. Fry admits that often it is the breaks, the digressions from perfection that make a poem perfect – for example, Blake’s The Tyger.

I also objected to Fry’s selling tactics for the book release, when, in an Observer interview he explained how he loathed vers libre as so much was “arse dribble”. As someone who writes both meter/rhyme and free verse I think a poem takes whatever form it needs. Badly bounced forced rhyme is just as dire as bad free verse – maybe even more painful, even if MacGonagall made his living at it.

This was my grumpy response to Fry’s “arse dribble” comment (with apologies for the “piles” of puns):

Irritable Bard Syndrome

My mind has IBS:
words roil, writhing in bubbles;
painful pressure builds
till – relief! – all spills
in violent, keyboard rattling gusts
transferred to paper posterity.

You are what you eat, they say;
poetry highlights heart.
My diet is careful:
no television horrors,
no sex, nor violence,
before bedtime.

Yet, I wipe my mind raw
on reams of paper –
thesaurus exposed;
rarely need OED bulk fibre;
never seek the artificial
cleansing of colon-ic irrigation
(though I do sometimes scrape
the bottom of the barrel).

Oh! To loosen my muse –
write from heav’nly, soul-fed
not such prosaic digestion
of ideals, ideas, intuition:

I know!
I shall raise my sight!
Sit upon Fry’s piles
of estimable poetic education
as I write.


will the pages absorb
yet more arse dribble?

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10 Responses to Irritable Bard Syndrome (IBS)

  1. Ron says:

    [insert very boring dead thing of your choice here] (lol-ed)

    A lovely poem for a messy topic. Hopefully Fry’s ears burned so that he felt the need to chew antacids.

  2. Big Bad Boris says:

    Like the poem, but the juxtaposition of ads that Google thought would be appropriate made me fall about. Must go get me some Acai berries!

  3. Gale says:

    Very clever. Now, that is extended metaphor. I didn’t know you had this blog. I’ll have to stop in more often.

  4. Helen Ivory says:

    Many times I have advised students to throw The Ode Less Travelled in the direction of down the toilet. That Fry is considered An Intellect is terribly confusing for people who are learning and the book isn’t at all helpful if you want to write creatively. ie with your imagination and not with your intellect. IMO!

    I liked your phrase ‘loosen the muse’ very much!

    • Myfanwy Fox says:

      Thanks Helen.
      Lovely image of toiletting The Ode.
      I’m glad no one shoved that book at me when I was starting to write poetry in 2004. Now I’m thinking at least I have a vague idea what all the jargon relates to. But the actual muse-y business is, for me, at least, some kind of magic, not best served by jig-sawing words just for form’s sake.

  5. Pingback: Thought for the day | Fox Tales

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