I’ve been reading a lot more rhyming poetry lately, which has never been my thing, but I’m on a real kick lately. Algernon Swinburne, John Clare, and William Combe (the first two in selected poems type editions and Combe’s Tours of Doctor Syntax – a trilogy of comic epics that I heartily recommend; they’re funny and well written, or, at least, what I’ve read so far [I’m only a little way through Doctor Syntax Tours in Search of the Picturesque]).
I would never advise anyone to leap, unprepared, into Swimburne. He’s sort of a kinky Browning (though never quite so indecipherable as Browning’s densest works). Imagine Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market written from the point of view of a sexually voracious, leering male onlooker, but never actually so undisguised as the scarcely disguised ‘goblin rape in the forest,’ so simultaneously more and less and kinky.
I’d probably also never suggest Combe unless that were your thing. If you’d read Candide and thought to yourself, ‘this would be ever more awesome if it rhymed!’
But Clare is a great place for simple, enjoyable rhyming poetry. I’m not very far into a collection entitled Careless Rambles but I already feel pretty safe saying that I love it. Not only that, but it’s threatening to make me want to move to the country. Not deep in the country. Maybe Vermont. Somewhere with easy access to independent bookstores, folk concerts, and art museums. But back to Clare. Think Wordsworth, but with end rhymes and without the melancholy ruminations of human mortality and indifference and without the mixed feelings about politics and revolutions. Or, really, any feelings about revolution. I should also not the Clare is not one for extended metaphors. Things are what they are. Which all makes him sound boringly simple and he should be, by all rights, but all I can tell you is that he is not. He’s got a nice, amateur naturalist approach the nature, though when he gets philosophical, he also gets a little less interesting to read.
Last year, my year of cramming in as many books as I could, was not conducive to reading rhyming poets because a good, rhyme schemed poem takes time to read. It’s an incredibly time consuming process and I find that I have to consciously read it to myself, not necessarily out loud, but as if reading it out loud. There is a scene in the movie, The English Patient (I can’t remember if it was in the book, too; I like Michael Ondaatje, but I’m going to commit some heresy here and say, in this case, the movie is better than the book), where the titular patient tells a character to read Kipling at the rate of Kipling’s pen moving across the paper. It’s not bad advice and it’s a good way to think about reading Clare or Swinburne or even Frost. Read as if laboriously writing the poem yourself by hand.
It’s hard for me because I’ve always been a fast reader, but suddenly I am forced to slow down drastically, more even than reading supposedly more difficult poets like Pound or Eliot (though not as slow as Gerard Manley Hopkins, who’s ridiculously complex schematics require a skeleton, infinite patience, and a glacial pace, all just to unearth the unsurprising revelation that a deep love of God and Christ is not actually sufficient to cure homosexuality).
But perhaps this is my entre into the so-called ‘slow reading movement.’ It feels odd to be taking so long to read fairly short books (and I don’t expect I’ll read all of the Swinburne right now, nor that I’ll finish Doctor Syntax anytime soon, though I intend to finish Clare, who has been on my ‘to do list’ for a long while), but maybe good training and a good way to slow down in general.