7.10.11

My Life in Poetry, on National Poetry Day

Yesterday, Thursday 6th October,  was National Poetry Day, which got me thinking about which are my favourite poems and which are the most prominent 'flags' for phases of my life.

I've made a little list:

1. Roald Dahl's poems.

When I was little, his poem's made a big impression on me, mainly because they were great, pulsating twisted beasts, with a syrupy dark heart, and a message that I understood to be 'you don't have to be nice to be interesting'. I think that's a good one for little girls to hear.

                                 Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop! - from Poem Hunter

                                                 'Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!
                                                  The great big greedy nincompoop!
                                                  How long could we allow this beast
To gorge and guzzle, feed and feast
On everything he wanted to?
Great Scott! It simply wouldn't do!
However long this pig might live,
We're positive he'd never give
Even the smallest bit of fun
Or happiness to anyone.
So what we do in cases such
As this, we use the gentle touch,
And carefully we take the brat
And turn him into something that
Will give great pleasure to us all–
A doll, for instance, or a ball,
Or marbles or a rocking horse.
But this revolting boy, of course,
Was so unutterably vile,
So greedy, foul, and infantile
He left a most disgusting taste
Inside our mouths, and so in haste
We chose a thing that, come what may,
Would take the nasty taste away.
'Come on!' we cried, 'The time is ripe
To send him shooting up the pipe!
He has to go! It has to be!'
And very soon, he's going to see
Inside the room to which he's gone
Some funny things are going on.
But don't, dear children, be alarmed;
Augustus Gloop will not be harmed,
Although, of course, we must admit
He will be altered quite a bit.
He'll be quite changed from what he's been,
When he goes through the fudge machine:
Slowly, the wheels go round and round,
The cogs begin to grind and pound;
A hundred knives go slice, slice, slice;
We add some sugar, cream, and spice;
We boil him for a minute more,
Until we're absolutely sure
That all the greed and all the gall
Is boiled away for once and all.
Then out he comes! And now! By grace!
A miracle has taken place!
This boy, who only just before
Was loathed by men from shore to shore,
This greedy brute, this louse's ear,
Is loved by people everywhere!
For who could hate or bear a grudge
Against a luscious bit of fudge?' 

2. Carol Ann Duffy. Full stop.

Ah, secondary school English, how I loved thee. Truly, madly, deeply, waiting for the revelation of the next class whilst pretending I didn't care about or know anything, which seems to be a fairly fail-safe way of being vaguely cool at school. My English teachers, with the exception of one I can think of, were exceptional, and I owe them a huge amount of thanks.
  
I think we began Carol Ann Duffy at GCSE, so 14/15 years old, and then carried it on for A Level as well, so to 18. Some people hated her ubiquity, I revelled in it. My young appreciation of poetry pretty much began and ended with her, as her poems were stories and moments and phrases, spun out with a cynicism and love and care. Her poems are so melodic too, and so dangerous. There'd always be that moment in class when we'd read a new one and we'd be unsure whether it was alright to admit to knowing what she was talking about, as some of the material probably flies close to the edge of what one might be happy explaining to kids. Maybe that's why we (I) loved it. 

I've deliberated this morning over which one to show; it could have been Oppenheim's Cup and Saucer, which would have allowed me to tell the funny story of Mr. Beer (Hi, Mr. Beer!) not wanting to put into words what it was about, so just nudging us with an innocent smirk to our own moment of realisation. And the funny moment when everyone but a relatively sheltered boy had got it, and there was no getting it through to him, until one of the rougher kids said it in the crudest language and we all fell about in hysterics from the strange tension of it. What's even funnier is that said sheltered boy came out a few years ago...Bless. 
It could also have been 'Small Female Skull', mainly because it brought about the sublime revelation that not even the teacher knew what it was about, prompting me to scrawl 'DO NOT DO THIS ONE' over the top of its page. It could maybe have been 'Education for Leisure', for its sinister atmosphere and direct contact with the reader at the end. I'm even surprised by the number of notes I made: 

But no, the biggest impression made on me, via a poem of hers, was another teacher (Hi, Mr. Stuart!) saying, in all seriousness, that one of his few regrets in life was that he hadn't written 'Mean Time'. The honesty and longing of that statement sort of blew my mind - he was a grown-up, wasn't he satisfied? And if he'd love to write like that, why hadn't he? I think it was an initial meeting for me with the difficulties and limitations of life in literary ambition. So, this one's really for you, Mr. Stuart:

Mean Time

'The clocks slid back an hour
and stole light from my life
as I walked through the wrong part of town,
mourning our love.

And, of course, unmendable rain
fell to the bleak streets
where I felt my heart gnaw
at all our mistakes.

If the darkening sky could lift
more than one hour from this day
there are words I would never have said
nor have heard you say.

But we will be dead, as we know,
beyond all light.
These are the shortened days
and the endless nights.'

3. Lord Byron's 'She Walks in Beauty'

I actually mentioned this poem in my last post, having not planned this one; here's the explanation for its previous choosing, I guess. Quite simply, my now-husband put the first four lines in his first Valentine's card to me, and never have I read and re-read a verse with such trepidation and hope, or carried a card with me like a talisman in such a way. It's behind me now actually, in one of those photo-pockets that hangs on the wall.

                                    She Walks in Beauty

                                   'She walks in beauty, like the night
                                    Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
                                    And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes...'



4. Edwin Muir's 'The Confirmation'.
 
Sorry to remain on sappy mode for a little longer, but Edwin Muir's 'The Confirmation' was the poem read (along with the very racy Bible poem 'The Song of Solomon') at my wedding to said boy above. Someone bought me '101 Poems That Could Save Your Life' by Daisy Goodwin when I was about 13, and I used to lie in bed at night, reading them aloud under my breath, under the covers. I've forever been a bit of an insomniac, so I had this book and the other in the series next to my bed to read in the wee smalls. I used to fall asleep dreaming that I'd know the right person when I saw them. Turns out, I kinda did.

      The Confirmation

'Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face.
I in my mind had waited for this long,
Seeing the false and searching for the true,
Then found you as a traveller finds a place
Of welcome suddenly amid the wrong
Valleys and rocks and twisting roads. But you,
What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste,
A well of water in a country dry,
Or anything that's honest and good, an eye
That makes the whole world bright. Your open heart,
Simple with giving, gives the primal deed,
The first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed,
The hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea.
Not beautiful or rare in every part.
But like yourself, as they were meant to be.'



5. Baz Luhrmann's 'Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)

I know this is a bit of a tangent, but I rediscovered this song a few weeks ago, just thinking of it 'some idle Tuesday', and was surprised and  a little sheepish to realise that I lot of the advice I repeat to myself in my own head is from this song. Lots of its priceless, particularly 'don't feel guilty if you don't know what you wanna do with your life: the most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 40 years old I know still don't, 'the race is long, and, in the end, it's only with yourself' and perhaps tellingly of our times, 'you are not as fat as you imagine'. Here's the song video and the original link.


So, what poems would be on your list?

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