OK so my last post was a bit snowy, dark and deep, but I had promises to keep. To myself. That I’d just blether, and practise writing again, because I hadn’t done it in so long. So I’m not going to delete the post, because I don’t really think anyone reads all this anyway. But here is a bit of a lighter post, just in case someone does!
This week has been exciting literature-wise. Because of National Poetry Day, which had me spending hours remembering poems I loved, not lost, but gone before, down the back of the sofa of the mind. Plus, the Literature Festival has come to Cheltenham, and the town is scattered with marquees, and celebrities, and odd little shows tucked into corners like gems glinting in the dark.
I have loved poetry since I was little. I had a book collated by Kit Wright, which was my first book of poetry: Poems for Nine Year Olds and Under. The cover itself fascinated me, as it shows a dog carrying a book of poems, and the book of poems in its mouth is the book of poems, which has a cover showing a dog carrying a book of poems … it goes on into infinity. Inside were happy poems, sad poems, dark poems, bright poems – it’s a huge great stew of verse and I recommend it to anyone, not just people Nine Years Old And Under. Although I remember thinking that the poet Anonymous had written a heck of a lot.
I also had A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. Including The Land of Counterpane, My Shadow and From A Railway Carriage. These are great for reading aloud; try to read Railway Carriage at a sedate pace and see how you get on! The words thud and thump their way off the page with a relentless rhythmn. A poem I wrote called “The Hunter’s Despair” when I was 8 or 9 owes a lot to Railway Carriage I think. It began “Dashing and leaping through bushes and brambles / Dancing and swirling through light summer air” about a deer escaping a huntsman.
The first Proper poem I wrote was A Donkey’s Dream. I was about 7 I think and we had to write a poem for Christmas, so I wrote:
I wish I was my ancestor
Led by Mary, ridden by Joseph.
Going to see the baby Jesus in his manger bed.
And on his head
A halo, golden.
‘Tis bad enough now that’s all gone,
‘Twas something to rely upon.
But still I dream of Christmas white,
And Jesus crying in the night.
No great literary masterpiece but the head teacher got me to read it out in front of the whole class and told me I had a talent. I was so excited when I went home I could hardly breathe. I remember lying in the bath and hugging that word, ‘talent’, to me, like the golden ball in The Princess and the Frog. I had my purpose for being. I wanted to write all day, every day. Then I thought “No, I mustn’t waste my talent” as if it was a pot of ink that was going to run out.
As I got older I began to appreciate the Romantic poets, and for A-level we studied Robert Frost and Jenny Joseph. The Bloodaxe Book of Women’s Poetry was a window into modern female poetry and its distinct power. Having dissected lines carefully for educational purposes, what a pleasure it is to read these poems afresh, with the knowledge of their resonance buried beneath them. It’s like enjoying a piece of music, but hearing not only the words and tune but the tambourine, and the triangle, and all the small little elements that make it what it is. The one poet I fail to appreciate is poor Roger McGough, and it’s not because he isn’t great, far from it. It’s because my biological father, having no idea what to give daughter he’d never met, gave me a book of his poetry for my seventh birthday. The book had rude words in it and included very odd little verses I didn’t understand. My mum put it – along with the Meccano set he’d given me the year before – on top of their wardrobe until I was old enough to enjoy it. Sorry, Roger, it’s nothing personal. You just bring back bad undefined memories. If it helps, I get the same feeling when I eat ginger biscuits. I don’t like this memory, but I don’t know why.
I could go on all day and all night about poetry. The Lady of Shallott by Tennyson alongside My Sister Jane by Ted Hughes. King John by A A Milne and Ariel’s song from Shakespeare. I feel excited by all this wealth of poetry. Panicked that there’s not enough time to read it ALL. I want to gather up all the words and drink them like wine. I want to memorise them so I can pull out quotes at opportune moments and sound intelligent. Other people’s words always sound better than your own. I mainly quote Monty Python, which is genius, but leaves non-Pythonites bemused. I don’t advise saying “a DUCK” in a rather sepulchural way to someone unless you’ve established they watched The Holy Grail several times, and know when to clap in Knights of the Round Table.
It would be nice to think if one day someone quoted me. For something other than “Don’t you know your own face” or “very funny, Officer.” (And only people who know me rather well will know what I mean by that.)
I’m going to stop typing now as I have painted my nails a bronze colour and I keep smudging the varnish. Tell me your favourite poems. Post links. It’s like diving into one of those big pools of balls they have at Soft Play and rolling around for the sheer joy of it. Something we should all do more often, don’t you think?