Poetry Thursday - all grown up.
This week, Poetry Thursday moves from being a weekly feature of Liz Elayne's blog to its very own site, and this is exciting - very exciting indeed. Liz and Lynn, who is partnering with her in putting together this new site, ask that we write a little this week about our relationship with poetry. Ah.
My first poem: Eggs
Eggs are great cos you can beat them,
scramble them, fry them, poach them
(I was about 6, I think, maybe 7)
After that, I wrote a whole sequence of food poems, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet. My mother retained these pages, and I expect them to emerge from her attic at some stage in the future.
As with most of us, every bump on the path of my adolescent love-life became cause for a mountain of heart-broken "There'll never be another...." poems... until the next heartbreak, and the next poems. They are buried in a very ugly green plastic-covered ledger somewhere in my attic. Hope they never find the light of day.
Other people's poetry: The school experience. Great poetry, shame about the teaching, in most cases. Somehow, most of the English teachers I experienced in Secondary school (High-school) managed to take great poetry and make me hate it. Yeats bored me. Somehow, John Donne (because what I remember was Love Poems... "I wonder by my troth/ what thou and I did til we loved. / Were we not weaned til then/ but sucked on country pleasures childishly...") managed to bypass the teaching and enter my soul. I recall reciting it aloud to my husband. Aaah. I recall being exceedingly frustrated that a 14-line poem took three pages of notes to "explain" it. Each poem was disected and analysed and we were told what each phrase or word meant, alluded to, implied. There was no space for our own response to the poem. It killed it, to my mind. You know the Billy Collins poem about beating a poem to death with rubber hoses? He captured it. Totally.
So the school experience left me wishing I liked poetry, but feeling it was old-fashioned, didn't have much to do with my life, and was over-full of "nature". I read voraciously, but fiction and an assortment of non-fiction. No poetry. Even when Kahlil Gibran entered my life, I considered that spiritual writing, not Poetry, per se. I read it. I listened to the recording of Richard Harris (oh that voice) reading it.
Life went on. I went to live away from home. Married, had my son, and made new friends. I was living in Yeats country at this stage - visiting places like Hazelwood, Glencar, Lissadell, Innisfree, on Sunday drives, and beginning to mellow to the poetry of Yeats. You can't live for 16 years in the shadow of Ben Bulben and not begin to soak the poetry into your bones. That must be what happened, gradually. A friend began to work with a poetry journal based in Sligo, and her excitement about the material coming to her desk was infectious. The night they were hosting a group of women poets from a Donegal fishing village, I went along "to help with the sandwiches" and stayed enthralled by what I heard. That was the first poetry reading I'd gone to. And it changed my life. This was the first poetry I heard that made me realise it can be about real, ordinary things too. I went home and wrote a poem.
We said "It might be good for a laugh, at least".
Imagine going totally rhapsodic over trees!
Don't get me wrong.
I like trees. - Really, I do!
But they're hardly inspiring.
And then, a woman's voice came up
and spoke my heart.
Unfurled the rumpled fabric of my life.
In front of all those people.
It was all said in six lines.
Looking around I saw faces
that said "She's telling my tale"
and we applauded our lives.
I think of that as my first poem. From there, I began to write - and to read - and to seek out readings - and to associate with people writing poems. I found that when there was no other way to voice a feeling, I might be able to do it in a poem. And when I read poems, more and more often I would find myself voicing a deep "aaah" when I GOT a sense of what the poet was feeling, or was aiming to convey. A recognition in the pit of the belly. And some poems that I don't understand at all, but it's like humming a tune in a foreign language. The music and rhythm and mood of the language touch me in a place beyond words. And sometimes when I write a poem, I wonder "what does that mean?" as though someone else wrote it. It comes out of a space that is not head, not intellectual, but soul and heart and gut at times, and the meaning whispers itself to me bit by bit over time, and I sit with it, and allow it to be a presence, like a dream-image that will speak to me eventually.
Poetry is now in my blood and in my bone. My best times are times with the writers' groups (note - plural - there are two!) I belong to, or at a reading. I feel alive then more than any other time. Poetry is my music. It is my spirit. Poetry is what lifts me up. A poem is, for me, a prayer.