It doesn’t take long to suffocate a child interest in poetry, but it can take decade to restore.
Thursday is National Poetry day, and somewhat to my surprise, I have through the summer become ‘a born again’ enthusiast of reading poetry.
As a child I liked poetry; Robert Louis Stevenson book a Child’s Garden of Verse, was one of the few books I can recollect owning. I have a strong memory, and I am not sure if this is how it really was, or just how it seemed to me, not that it makes much difference for effect was just the same; that at primary school I desperately wanted to enter a poetry competition, the prize was a ‘Parker’ fountain pen and I like to think the prize winners pen was the colour of arterial blood, but who knows, this may be a figment of my imagination and as the pen was never going to be coming my way it’s irrelevant .
During the 1960’s being both dyslexic and left handed meant I was well and truly hobbled, I would trail my left hand through the wet ink (no Biro’s allowed) making a piece of work that was already full of miss-spelling and crossings out, and looking like a dogs dinner, into something more akin to a vomit splat. There was no way any teacher was going to mount my work on moss green sugar paper and display it on the classroom wall (how did they do that, before Blue Tack? there must have been a lot of drawing pin holes) let alone put it forward as shining example of the schools creativity.
I can remember feeling embarrassed, if not ashamed by my work; who knows if the poem was any good, the fact was never going to look like my friend Gillian’s work; she had beautiful hand writing it was smooth, flowing and perfectly formed, it had all the rhythm of a well tensioned piece of knitting and as was as even and rounded as the chain link fence that that surrounded our school playground.
When Gillian wrote the word ‘people’ it was a joy to behold; when I tried the word displayed all the signs and symptoms of a sufferer of a multiple personality disorder; I just couldn’t spell it; from my messy pen the word seeped out as pople, peepole or poelpe, but what ever form it took, it never sat neatly and obediently on the the raspberry pink line of my exercise book, not like Gillian’s did and not only that, my peapal were always smudged and bedraggled.
So that is where I left poetry,a humiliating episode, best forgotten, for over thirty years; until this spring when I was working with someone who was studying poetry, and I became interested in it again, almost by osmosis and I have spent the summer reading poetry by writers such as Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Rosen, Mark Haddon and Robin Robbinson and loved it.
Poetry is often used by therapist and counsellors as an aid to reaching peoples inner emotions, quickly and deeply; well two of the poems I have read this summer certainly caught my breath and knocked me off balance;the first is by Robin Robertson and if you have read my post entitled Strong Spirit you will perhaps understand why it resonated with me
Ghost Of A Garden
Sometimes I discover I have gone downstairs,
crossed the grass and found myself
in here:the tool shed.
caught in a lash of brambles, bindweed
and tall ivied trees like pipecleaners. It looks out,
vacantly on a garden run to seed:
the lost tennis court, over-grown benches,
a sunken barbecue snagged with blown roses.
The courtyard walls are full of holes the swallows
try to sew, in and out of them like open doors.
In the corner of the shed my father is weeping
and I cannot help him because he is dead.
Robin Robertson, from the book ‘Swithering’, published by Picador.
The second is by Michael Rosen, who in my ignorance, I was only aware of as a children’s author, the boys loved his book ‘Rover’ when they were younger, as much as we liked to read it to them, I particularly enjoyed his prose poetry; the poem is about his son, who died, in his late teens, from meningitis, it is a poem that would strike out at any parent as they watch and measure their children as they leap upwards towards adults, from the babies they were but briefly.
There were ways of figuring out how big he got.
Like where his eyes came to, face to face
The way his finger- tips edged beyond mine,
hand to hand. His wrists peering out of
the end of his shirt sleeves. The way the guys
couldn’t keep hold of his body bag as they
tried to slide it down the stairs.
Michael Rosen, Selected Poems, published by Penguin