Today, March 26th, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of the American poet and writer, Robert Frost. This was my inspiration for a Wondering ‘Poetry Corner’. (My inspiration for the title came from much closer to home, as you’ll find out if you read on…)
I wasn’t very impressed with poetry at school. I couldn’t see the point of all that in depth analysis, picking the bones out of every word and trying to second guess what the poet actually meant, then spewing it all out on paper for the examiner to take pot shots at. It wasn’t until some years later that I discovered poetry for myself and began a collection of favourites which I typed out on an old manual typewriter. One of these was ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost. I love the simplicity of the language and the down to earth quality of his poems. It was Frost, of course, who famously said: ‘No tears in the writer; no tears in the reader’. What better maxim do we need to remind us to raise the emotional stakes in our writing?
I asked the Write Romantics: What is your favourite poem? Perhaps it’s a Shakespeare sonnet, a nineteenth century romantic poem, a haiku, or a hilarious ode by Pam Ayres; the choice is endless, but if there isn’t a poem you love, perhaps because you were put off poetry at school, tell us about that instead, or even, dare I say it, give us one of your own.
The WRs came up with these answers: (Jo’s given us a special treat – you’ll find it at the end)
I went on a writing weekend once where poems were touched on and I mentioned that I liked John Cooper Clarke and Wendy Cope’s poems because they were humorous. I received such sneers from the two tutors there that I was really hurt, cos I thought they were good. So I wouldn’t dare to suggest that one of their poems was worth a look (oh, okay then: I Married a Monster from out of Space and Evidently Chicken Town, and Wendy Cope’s, Loss which is only four lines, berating not so much the disappearance of her man but that he took the corkscrew as well!)
But the two poems that stick in my mind is: At Lunchtime by Roger McGough. It’s about people making love on a bus at lunchtime because someone said it was ok as the world was going to end. The other one is: In Flanders Fields by John McCrae who was in the first world war (I’m guessing most people know this poem). Coincidently, as I googled it because I couldn’t remember the poets name, I came across another very good poem by Roger McGough called the Square Dance, which is a parody of John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields. Well I never!
My favourite poem is ‘He wishes for the clothes of Heaven’ by W.B. Yeats. It is hugely romantic and beautiful and I can’t help but feel that only an Irishman (or woman) could have written it. I adore the last line ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’. Supposedly Yeats wrote the poem for Maud Gonne, a beautiful English woman who he was hopelessly in love with for many years. She really didn’t tread softly on his dreams as she turned down his many proposals and eventually (and unhappily) married someone else.
Hmmm. Tricky. I don’t tend to read poetry. I like the amusing stuff a la Pam Ayres (very talented woman) and I don’t understand the other stuff. To me, poetry should rhyme! Other than the famous “I wish I’d looked after my teeth” I couldn’t specifically name anything Pam has written so I’ll instead say a poem from my childhood. In junior school, we looked at The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. The lesson was all about what words mean and how words can be made up but you can still understand what they mean by the sound or the context. I must have been about 8 or 9 and I still remember this lesson in detail. I was so enthralled that I went away and learned the poem. Thirty two years later, I can still recite it word for word and I still think it’s magical! A particular favourite word from it is “mimsy”. How wonderful is that?
We did a module on poetry as part of my masters and it was heavy going. I don’t think my talents lie in poetry, put it that way! It’s so much harder to write poetry than we think, with so few words to capture a moment or tell a tale. During that module we listened to a couple of Pam Ayres poems and I admire her extraordinary talent. Her voice as a narrator works so well too and brings her poems to life by adding emotions behind them.
Having posed the question, I found it difficult to answer as I’m liking poetry more and more these days so my list of favourites is growing. John Betjeman has to be my top poet, for the stories he tells through his verses of ordinary people doing ordinary things, like a boy going to a Christmas party and feeling nervous about it, or a family taking their annual trip to the seaside in an old banger. It’s hard to describe but to me his poetry feels so truthful and relevant. These are the first lines of ‘A Subaltern’s Love-Song’:
Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun…
…which is just about all you need to know to be able to ‘see’ her.
If I have to go for one, it would be ‘Death in Leamington’. It might be about death but it’s not sad. Betjeman is writing about death as a normal, everyday part of life, and it’s just lovely. This is one of the verses:
And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high ‘mid the stands and chairs
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul
And the things were alone with theirs.
I’m afraid I don’t like poetry, it’s not to say I don’t admire some poems and I do appreciate listening to poems that fellow writers have written. But it has always been one of my least favourite things and the thought of writing one fills me with fear. I have a friend who does write some very funny poems and these are excellent but it’s not something I would choose to write or read for pleasure myself.
My favourite poems are those which make you go, ‘aaahhh,’ at the end, not those that we studied at school, the hard, serious ones though I love anything by Thomas Hardy. To me those by Pam Ayres, Jenny Joseph and even Roald Dahl are just much more fun. I could really never take to T. S. Elliott. My favourite is by a certain member of the Write Romantics, it cheerful, sweet, and just great fun!
My favourite poet, stemming from my childhood, is probably Spike Milligan. He could be genuinely laugh out loud funny with one poem and then write a touching ode to love in the next. There are lots of other poets that I admire and some of the World War 1 poets, like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, wrote such hauntingly sad poetry that I have never forgotten it. I still love Spike best though and here are links to a couple of examples to illustrate my point:
I Must Go Down To The Sea Again
If I Could Write Words
And here’s my attempt at an ode:
Ode To The Write Romantics
I sent a ROMNA email to find myself a friend,
another romance writer, just as round the bend.
We started up a blog and found ourselves a host,
convinced we’d soon be breakfasting on caviar and toast.
But a hundred million bloggers are looking for a deal,
so we had to find some other friends to widen our appeal.
Now we dream of a hunky assistant, to address our every whim,
good luck to the bloke who gets the job, they’ll be nine of us and him!
See what I mean about a treat? Thanks, Jo, it’s brilliant! Such a variety of replies here; I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have, and please feel free to add your own contribution. We’d love to read it.
March is nearly over, which means this is my last Wondering for a while. Next week the hot seat will be occupied by the lovely Helen Phifer, author of The Ghost House.