When I think of poetry, I often imagine complete solitude, and silence. Alright, perhaps a little soft jazz to up the mojo. Almost never do I (and I’m sure, you reader) imagine a longhaired, fuzzy bearded, electric guitar-in-hand man in perfectly round spectacles. Almost never do we imagine John Lennon when we think of the greatest poets of our times. And for good reason.
After all, pop (or rock-n-roll) musicians are all about the rhythm and melody and sound, right? Wrong. So painfully and irretrievably wrong. At least, and especially when it comes to Lennon.
To begin with, his poetry is honest. That instantly makes it (and him) vulnerable. And what better quality can a poet have than vulnerability? How many poets are capable of saying, ‘I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m just a jealous guy’? In a world where everyone harps on about how their mother helped them be the person they are today, how many can open up and say, ‘Mother, you had me, but I never had you’? When you sit down and listen to or read Lennon’s poetry, what you’re experiencing is words without pretence. Meat without the fat. There are no veils or masks to hide behind. (Or, if I had to use a literary analogy, there is no third person to protect him.)
Lennon’s words don’t just create vivid images. That is the bare minimum a poet must do. What his words did was run their fingers through your mind, caress the skin of your heart. Stimulate the parts of you that can feel, think, experience. Think Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds and you see a million colours. Think Strawberry Fields Forever and you hear a child who thinks nobody gets him. What Elvis Presley did with his hips, Lennon did with his words.
Then there’s his versatility. Most poets, writers, musicians, anyones are happy to find their comfort zones and stew in their own mediocrity. Lennon, however, chose the misery of failed experiments over no innovation at all. Here was a poet who could call on the entire world to come together and imagine a better place. And when you turn the page, you read his venomous, caustic rants about a former partner. On the next leaf, he writes about his disillusionment with politicians. And finally, he comes back to tell you that everything’s going to be alright, but not before writing his son a lullaby that would bring a grown man to tears.
But the thing that I love most about Lennon is the fact that he wrote almost exclusively about himself. After all, what’s better material for poetry than one’s own experiences, sadness, joys, pride, insecurities, failures, losses, hopes and acceptances. And that’s the thing with writing about oneself. It gives your words authenticity and intensity. Both qualities Lennon’s writing oozed. Is it not intensity when Lennon says ‘God is a concept by which we measure our pain’? Is it not authenticity when he writes ‘All we are saying is give peace a chance’?
But if you’re thinking he was all intensity and no fun, he’s got In His Own Write, and A Spaniard in The Works for you. Not songs, not prose, not really poetry either. But a kind of literature that is a genre unto itself. A kind of literature that’ll make you wonder if there are meanings hidden deep inside the jokes, or private jokes in sentences that are apparently meaningful.
And that, ladies and gents, is my favourite poet.
(image taken from mirror.co.uk)