Does Sentiment Make a Poem?

The Leicester Mercury published a poem, a very rare occurrence. The poem concerned was clearly heartfelt and of monumental importance to its author, Yvonne Clegg, in memory of her son Ashley.  She happened to show it to a police officer who asked if it could be used to use in schools as a warning. Mrs Clegg is aware that most children will ignore it, but thought if it encourages a few children to listen, it was worthwhile.

It is loaded with sentiment. However, sentiment alone does not make a good poem. No matter how heartfelt the subject, it still has to work as a poem.

As a reader who doesn’t know the family at all, but understands the tragic waste of a young life, I wanted a better feel for who Ashley was. In the poem he “enjoyed his young life going judo, Cubs. His life full of fun,/ had lots of friends and enjoyed the sun,” he grew up and “As time went on the girls would fall,/ for Ashley was now blond, blue-eyed and six foot tall./ He would be out clubbing with all his mates,/ having a good time on a few good dates.” His mother thought the world of him, but who was he? Did he give up judo and why? Which clubs did he go to? As they stand these are rather generic descriptions that don’t get to the heart of what made this man Ashley rather than one of his mates.

His mother’s bafflement at her son’s addiction and the isolation both she and he felt are captured. Readers don’t learn anymore about addiction itself: that’s beyond the scope of the poem.

The author’s chosen rhyming couplets but not all couplets rhyme and the rhythm is loose. It’s safe to say it won’t win any literary prizes.

Should it have been published? And should the police be using it?

I’m torn. Being able to share real-life experiences with children is a good thing, mainly because it not just another adult telling them not to do something. However, I wonder if Ashley wouldn’t have been better served by a good poem.

What are your thoughts?



4 Responses to “Does Sentiment Make a Poem?”

  1. Tony Shelley Says:

    I read it, didn’t like it to be honest and I don’t think sentiment like this should be for public consumption. I understand the police wanted to use it as a warning to others. This is absolute nonsense. A poem will not deter (in my experience), anybody from ‘using’ drugs of any kind, from dope to alcohol. I truely understand where the mother is coming from, but grief on this scale is a private emotion, not to spilled onto the front page of a provincial newspaper.

  2. A Poem Dragged into Orbit « Emma Lee’s Blog Says:

    […] was inspired by some of the issues in last week’s post. It has nothing to do with the people involved and is not intended as a comment on individuals but […]

  3. Howard Says:

    You lot are what makes this country a shite hole. This woman wrote a poem for herself not for publication. And all you horrible people can do is criticise her you really should be ashamed of yourselves you pompous horrible so called human beings. I bet your family’s are so proud of you criticising others just be careful it don’t backfire on you.

  4. emmalee1 Says:

    Generally I appreciate if commentators actually read the blog article before posting.

    If you did you’d know that “this woman” didn’t write the poem for herself, it’s being used in schools and similar settings as an educational tool. I’d also point out:

    1. Criticism of something someone did doesn’t mean criticism of the person. If I criticise a poem, I’m not criticising the poet, who could be a complete stranger or a great friend.

    2. Praising something that’s not very good doesn’t help anyone. Good is a flexible term here: there’s a difference between a good poem from a beginner and a good poem from a professional. Constructive criticism enables people to develop and grow their talents.

    3. You have no idea what my family situation is. Don’t weaken your point by widening your target.

    4. I did not criticise her.

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