It’s always been a great disappointment to me that I don’t adore poetry.
Okay, that was a bit dramatic.
I do like some poetry, but I hate the fact that I don’t get poetry as in really get it. I love to read, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel as though to be a real literate, I have to love, adore, worship poetry. And when I’m in a room with people quoting Yeats and Browning and Shakespeare, I feel like a person at a posh wine tasting saying she prefers that wine
“what comes in them cardboard boxes in the shiny paper”
I’m aware somehow that I’m being completely silly but this is where I’m at this evening. I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago and was so relieved that she also finds it hard to really get poetry. Like tears running down the face
“omigod that’s just beautiful! bravo, bravo!”
type get, you know what I mean?
I’m aware I’m rambling now but *shrug*
When I was in my last years of primary, we read lots of poetry in school. I guess it was more of an introduction to poetry than anything. Things like The adventures of Isabel by Ogden Nash (whom I adored and still do), I remember really liking E.E. Cumming poems and the only Robert Browning poem I know and can still recite – well, most of it anyway – since grade seven was The pied Piper of Hamelin. And I went through a phase where I really liked Haikus, but let’s be honest, who doesn’t like Haikus? Am I right? Yet something says
“Meh! Those aren’t real poetry. Those are just really good stories told in verse. And Haikus are just witty little things that you work out a formula on”
And another part says,
“hello!! that’s all poetry is, you snob!”
I took took poetry when I was in Secondary school though as it was part of my English literature class. We had a teacher called Mr Mcloghlin who was very English and had a mop of hair that fell in front of his eyes a la Hugh Grant, which he’d toss aside (the hair, not his eyes) as he read aloud to us from the “18th and 19th century poets” syllabus book and I didn’t have a bloody clue what I was doing in that class except enjoying his lovely measured tones. I loved the literature part but just could not connect with the poetry.
Until we read three poems that I still go back to to this day.
The first is The rime of the ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I love it because it’s a ballad which is just a story said in verse if I’m to be entirely honest, and I love stories. There’s something about the rhythm to it that moves me. It’s very long and very interesting and I would recommend it to anyone who loves stories and rhymes.
The second is The lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock by T.S. Elliott and it’s the imagery that gets me with this poem.
My memories of Mr Mcloghlin standing at the front of the class leaning against the teacher’s desk with shirtsleeves rolled up in the Namibian heat, his voice booming across the classroom as he read it; and the imagery evoked by the language of the poem:
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,And seeing that it was a soft October night,Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
Fuck me (pardon my klatchian), if I ever learn to write like that I’ll just die happy, right there and then.
The invocation of time is just breathtaking. The way we measure it, the way it passes, how we obsess about it. This poem used to leave me in equal measures of despair and elation.
And then there’s the third poem.
It has no title, and has always been tagged as anonymous. I was 11 when we read it in class, and it was with my favourite english teacher. She was unconventional and lovely and had such a great impact on my life, one of the reasons being this poem. We read it and I read and re-read it and have gone back to it over many years. It moves me to tears, it lifts me up, it inspires me. Sometimes, a piece of writing just crosses your path and it stays forever in your heart.
I read it again three years ago after a break of nearly a decade, and I knew what I needed to do to start finding myself again. Because there is still time.
Here’s a lot of myth around it but all that doesn’t matter.
May you never stop saying the things inside you that need saying.
He always wanted to explain things
But noone cared
So he drew
Sometimes he would draw and it wasn’t anything
He wanted to carve it in stone
Or write it in the sky
He would lie out on the grass
And look up at the sky
And it would be only the sky and him that needed saying
And it was after that
He drew the picture
It was a beautiful picture
He kept it under his pillow
And would let no one see it
And he would look at it every night
And think about it
And when it was dark
And his eyes were closed
He could still see it
And it was all of him
And he loved it
When he started school he brought it with him
Not to show anyone but just to have it with him
Like a friend
It was funny about school
He sat in a square brown desk
Like all the other square brown desks
And he thought it should be red
And his room was a square brown room
Like all the other rooms
And it was tight and close
He hated to hold the pencil and chalk
With his arms stiff and his feet flat on the floor
With the teacher watching
The teacher came and smiled at him
She told him to wear a tie
Like all the other boys
He said he didn’t like them
And she said it didn’t matter
After that they drew
And he drew all yellow
And it was the way he felt about morning
And it was beautiful
The teacher came and smiled at him
“What’s this?” she said
“Why don’t you draw something like Ken’s drawing?”
“Isn’t that beautiful?”
After that his mother bought him a tie
And he always drew airplanes and rocket ships
Like everyone else
And he threw the old picture away
And when he lay out alone and looked out at the sky
It was big and blue and all of everything
But he wasn’t anymore
He was square inside and brown
And his hands were stiff
And he was like everyone else
And the things inside him that needed saying
Didn’t need it anymore
It had stopped pushing
It was crushed
Like everything else.