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There have been numerous times in my professional life when groups of people I have only just met have – one by one – introduced themselves to me and to each other. And I, in turn, have introduced myself to them. Names. Job roles. Companies. Where we’re all from. And then, sometimes, hobbies and other out-of-work things.
When it comes to hobbies and out-of-work-things, both I and you have probably heard stories of kids and cooking. Cycling and running. And, maybe (but if not, just imagine it for a moment), painting and poetry. Now, imagine the painter wants to show you one of his or her paintings, tucked away in the photo library of their phone. So that you can politely comment on it. That’s a little bit chilling. Commenting on a relative stranger’s creative outlet. But it could be worse. Imagine this ever-more chilling, albeit imagined scenario. Imagine the amateur poet standing up. Imagine then them asking if you’d like to hear them recite one of their poems. For you to absorb and respond to. Oh blimey! How long will the poem be? What will it be about? Will it be… personal? How long do I have to hold this smile? And what do I do at the end? Do I clap?
Thankfully, this exact scenario has never happened to me. And it probably never will. The reason I tell this story though, is to illustrate just one aspect of poetry that has always intrigued me. And that is the ‘sharing’ bit. Poetry has always seemed like such a personal thing to me. Not just writing it, but reading it, too. Poetry exists as a ‘thing’ of course. We’ve all heard of poetry. But do people that we actually know in real life read it? Or maybe even write it? And if they do, why so secretive?
Poetry reminds many of us of school. Poetry was one of those things on the list of things we were told to do but didn’t ever really want to. Like quadratic equations. Cross country running in the rain. And climbing fat ropes. When we are younger, it’s hard to fathom what poetry is actually for. And it’s hard work. Trying to find lots of words that rhyme. (Even though, as I understand it, poetry isn’t actually about trying to find lots of words that rhyme!)
But as time passed, and because poetry was still a ‘thing’ over there in the corner of my and lots of other people’s lives, largely unexplored yet ever-present, I decided to take a closer look.
Probably like most people, before I took a closer look at poetry I had imagined it to be tricky, opaque and somehow distant. But, in actual fact, if you took a look at poetry like I took a look at poetry it is very likely that – in time – you will stumble across something somebody has written that will resonate with you quite directly. And maybe even quite deeply. All I think that poetry is is people expressing themselves. And in a world where so many people find authentic self-expression hard to do, maybe poetry is much more relevant than you or I might think.
My perception of poets today, be they amateur or professional, has changed. I’ve shifted from thinking they’re weird – to thinking they’re brave. It is brave to think about how to express your feelings compellingly in writing, and in such a way that another person might read and judge. I am not sure I’d feel comfortable doing that. And I respect bravery. I am somehow envious of it, too. And so it is that I have come to admire those that take the time to create poetry. Either for their own consumption or for others to appreciate.
How I Started.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not now a poetry addict. I am not a dedicated and obsessive poetry fan. All that has happened is I have evolved from an ignorer to someone that has an interest. I’ll take a look if I come across some poetry. I’ll see if there is anything for me to learn or feel. I have simply moved from disinterested, to interested.
I think that my interest in poetry started when I picked up some random book of poetry a year or so ago. Absorbing what was there with older eyes, and processing it with a much older brain than when I last consumed poetry. Poetry hasn’t changed. But I have.
Part of my new-found interest was a feeling of nostalgia. I began remembering books that I had read, or that had been read to me, as a child. And I was remembering them not just for the brightly coloured images they supported, and not even for the stories they told, but for how the words and phrases were constructed. How they danced and how they flowed.
“I will not play at tug o' war.
I'd rather play at hug o' war,
Where everyone hugs
Instead of tugs,
Where everyone giggles
And rolls on the rug,
Where everyone kisses,
And everyone grins,
And everyone cuddles,
And everyone wins.”
Poetry is unlikely to change your life. But it might change your thinking. Just a little bit. I may keep you away from aimlessly scrolling on your smartphone too. And that has to be a good thing.
There’s a book called, ‘52 Ways of Looking at a Poem’ by Ruth Padel. Ruth takes a poem for each week of the year and analyses it in an easy, understandable way.
‘Sounds Good’ by Christopher Reid contains 101 poems chosen for how they are structured. They dance as you read them.
‘By Heart’ is by Ted Hughes. It again contains 101 poems that Ted helps us to internalise and even memorise.