Recently a couple of blog posts have popped up in my reader about poetry of one kind or another, unfortunately I can’t remember who posted them, but they really got me thinking. When I was much younger; in my late teens and early twenties I loved poetry, I can’t say I read it obsessively, but I did read it, and, I blush to admit, wrote it for a while. As time has gone on I have very much neglected poetry, and now find I own hardly any, most of the few collections I had having been callously culled from my overcrowded shelves. So when I consider the kind of beautiful poetic prose that I so admire in the fiction I read, I have to ask myself why on earth I am reading so very little poetry. One of my favourite writers as many of you will know is Thomas Hardy a man who dedicated the latter years of his life to his great love for poetry, yet I could quote only a couple of lines of Hardy poetry, my fear is I won’t like it as much as his novels and stories. This will change, poetry is coming back into my life – I even went out and bought some the other day.
I bought – Ariel by Sylvia Plath, a classic and maybe an odd choice in some ways – but I have been meaning to re-read The Bell Jar and I remember being impressed by Lady Lazarus when I was young and angst ridden, (I may have owned this collection before – certainly read some of it before) Lady Lazarus is included in the collection, those first few lines still give me goose bumps for some reason.
“I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it –
A sort of walking miracle, my skin
Bright as a Nazi lampshade”
(From Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath)
I can’t say I find Sylvia Plath an easy poet or novelist to read, yet there is something about her that makes me want to read her still.
My second poetic purchase was something very different, something absolutely gorgeous. Picador have brought out some absolutely beautiful little stocking filler sized books by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy; they are small square books, beautifully illustrated they would make a wonderful gift, so I bought one, for myself. Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday, illustrated by Tom Duxbury is a little gem.
“First frost at midnight –
Moon, Venus and Jupiter
named in their places
Ice, like a cold key,
turning its lock on the lake;
nervous stars trapped there.
Darkness, a hand poised
over the chord of the hills;
the strange word moveless
The landscape muted;
soft apprehension of snow,
a holding of breath
(From Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday by Carol Ann Duffy)
One of the Carol Ann Duffy books on the table in Waterstones was a larger picture/poetry book, also more expensive, tempted though I was I didn’t buy it – it is called The Christmas Truce – a poem about the famous truce of WW1 – I later left the shop with a small book shaped regret in my heart – I may yet go back and buy it. Later that day, I was tweeting about Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday, and Picador alerted me to a link; a way of getting a poem sent to my email inbox – I signed up. The Christmas Truce poem arrived in my inbox complete with a few lovely little illustrations. It rather made my day.
Christmas Eve in the trenches of France,
the guns were quiet.
The dead lay still in No Man’s Land –
Freddie, Franz, Friedrich, Frank . . .
The moon, like a medal, hung in the clear, cold sky.
Silver frost on barbed wire, strange tinsel,
sparkled and winked.
A boy from Stroud stared at a star
to meet his mother’s eyesight there.
An owl swooped on a rat on the glove of a corpse.
In a copse of trees behind the lines,
a lone bird sang.
A soldier-poet noted it down – a robin
holding his winter ground –
then silence spread and touched each man like a hand.
(From A Christmas Truce – Carol Ann Duffy)
So then, one of my reading resolutions for next year will be to read more poetry. I don’t feel very knowledgeable about poetry, I certainly don’t feel very confident about talking about it, but I just (apologies – shudderingly awful phrase coming up) know what I like. As far as what I like – well I think I like a variety of different things – I think I rather like Robert Frost – well what little of his poetry I have read, and I want to read more Hardy poetry, I like many of the war poets, and John Clare. However there is a lot of poetry that still leaves me rather cold, and I’m still not sure what it is that makes me like what I like, and not like other things so much, that I suppose, is what I need to explore. You can assume that I will write occasionally about the poetry I have been reading, and no doubt will acquire more, so if you have recommendations for me I’d love to have them.