So wrote John Keats, 200 years ago, in 'Ode To A Grecian Urn', a poem describing the image of two young lovers inscribed on a beautiful antique vase. Keats wanted to suggest that a work of art (a painting, sculpture, piece of music, or a poem) has the unique ability capture a fleeting moment (a feeling, mood, a scene, an event) and preserve it forever, a moment that, in reality, is soon over and forgotten in the passage of real time.
Poetry takes a photograph of something experienced, recording for eternity not just the visible part. A Romantic poet, thus concerned with emotion above most other things, Keats felt that the happy young lovers portrayed on the vase, and their love would last forever, be kept forever young, forever pure (forever ‘true’).
It’s a beautiful poem, and an interesting idea, and it’s the basis of our Poetry Prize theme for this 2017-18: TRUTH.
I want you to think about truth. About what is 'true', and about the nature and importance of 'truth' itself. 'The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth' — so are we oath-bound to speak in legal situations. But where does truth start and where does it end? One day's truth (the earth is flat) might not be a truth at a later juncture (of course the earth isn't flat). We can 'verify' (check, measure, calculate) facts and figures: empirical, scientific truth seems relatively unproblematic. But what about moral truth, social truth, political truth, truth in human relationships?
These days, we are told we live in a ‘post-truth’ world (defined as where 'objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'. So, Keats was right, was he? We come back to human emotions? Feelings can be just as true as facts? What newspapers, adverts, politicians and the media claim to be true is repeatedly exposed as fiction, falsehoods created out of a desire to affect the ways we think and act and believe. So, who do we believe and what do we believe in? What part does ‘truth’ play in your life, at surface or deeper levels. What is your truth?
Write a poem whose title contains the word ’truth’. Any topic, any style. Not forget that, in a poem, HOW something is expressed is as important as what is expressed. There are many definitions of 'poetry'. Books are written on the subject. My own favourite definition is a very simple one made by the writer John Carey: Poetry is words I want to remember.
Good luck! I'll look forward very much to reading the fruits of your efforts next year!