Sunday, January 13, 2019


When I was in high school - St. Bede's Roman Catholic Grammar School, Bradford, Yorkshire - I took poetry very seriously, following my "discovery" of T.S. Elliot, W.B. Yeats, C. Day Lewis (who I met - see an account at pages 48 and 49 here) and Ezra Pound. I also wrote some poetry and even founded (with George Wisz) and edited a poetry / literary magazine Katawakes - publishing poems by Peter Porter (his poems There are Too Many of Us and The Way the Cookie Crumbles was first published in this magazine) and many others. I also had poems published in Left and a few other places. I was also a founding member of the [Gerald Manley] Hopkins Society and have a signed copy of FR Leavis lecture to the society which he gave in London on St.David's day in 1971 (I also interviewed Leavis in 1969). Here is one I published in the school magazine (page 53 here), which only goes to show that poetry is not always good:

Still lie the waters of the silent pool
awaiting the. sound of a silent move
A hand ripples the surface, inconsequently,
and the gentle waters sound a sweet hollow in the hour of the darkening day;
There is a murmur, as if an endless sigh has moved against the hours of silent waiting.
So I do wait, alone and uncomplaining.
A hand, fingered with rays of burning light,
touches the dark waters of the mind,
soothing the disturbed water in a whirl of glory. Yet
Still lie the waters of the silent pool. 
Then I got seriously involved in a thing they call "work" - being an academic and later an academic administrator, innovator, and general gad-about. Poetry fell by the wayside. I read some occasionally - especially the modern poets like Roger McGough, Stevie Smith and I truly loved Charles Causley and Spike Milligan's children's poems:

I must go down to the sea again
The lonely sea and sky
I left my socks and knickers there
I wonder if they're dry?

and then there were the limericks:

There was a young man from Port Said
Who fell down a toilet and died
He had a brother, who fell down another
And now they are interred side by side

There was a young man from Siberia
Whose morals were rather inferior
He did to a nun what he shouldn't have done
And now she's a mother superior

But I left poetry and began reading crime and thriller novels, serious writing about the second world war and lots of other works. I also wrote a lot myself, now working on my 44th book. I have published over 600 other pieces - book chapters, articles, newspaper pieces and so on.

But I have now decided that poetry is something I needed to get back to. In part, this was triggered by the fact that a close friend is a very good poet whose work I deeply admire and by the fact that I watched a wonderful interview Mary Beard did with Clive James. He is, amongst other things, a poet. His collection Sentenced to Life (2016) and his long epic poem The River in the Sky (2018) are wonderful pieces of writing. He recommended another poet, Gjertrud Schnackenberg, who is simply outstanding. Her epic poem, The Throne of Labdacus, is masterful.

So I have committed myself to read poetry a lot in 2019. One helpful source for thinking about what to read - poetry is everywhere - is Clive James own Poetry Notebook, where he surveys his own interests. Through this, I discovered another brilliant American poet, Mary Oliver who won a Pulitzer for her poetry. A collection of her poems - Devotions - is a treasury of insight, incisive writing, and powerful imagery. It is also fun:

May I never not be frisky
May I never not be risque

- from her poem Prayer.

I also rediscovered Peter Porter, the poet whose work I published in 1970 but who was already a great poet and became an even greater one- just read his poem Browning Meers Wagner at the Schlesinger's - and Ted Hughes, a collection of his poems selected by Alice Oswald I have thanks to a friend, whose poem After Lorca I read at school.

I also am reminded that not all poets who others rave about are poets that will appeal to me. Kevin Young, who now edits the poetry for New Yorker magazine, is one such poet. His collection The Book of Hours, written shortly after the death of his father, is one such poet. He has won awards, was a Professor of Poetry and has published a lot. I can't connect - can't see what others see. This is a challenge. I will try to read more of his work to "find" the secret, but after 181 pages I am not optimistic.

Why you might ask, has poetry suddenly become so important? I admire good writing (just as I admire good music, food, wine, painting, theatre, comedy) and poetry is the most difficult thing to write (I know, I have some published poems - see my collection of poems and short stories Beyond Words). Intense writing, powerful imagery provoking emotion and reflection - not an easy thing to do. Believe me, I have tried.

1 comment:

Richard Sherbaniuk said...

Love this blog. You are a fan of limericks. Ky favorite:

There was a young lady named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than Light
She departed one day in a relative way
And returned on the previous night.