National poetry day

There came a point where you reached a stage of self-awareness as you read the poetry that you scribbled on A4 narrow feint lined notepads, the words spidering halfway along each line, those words scrawled in the half light, those words attempting to translate the sharply felt anxieties of the teenage crush, that crippling moment of being tongue tied when the object of your adoration bumped into you in the corridor, the realisation that the boy in the year above with the earring and the place in the school football team was kissing her in the doorway of the newsagents as you walked home. The clumsy rhymes and tone deaf experiments with meter gave way to free verse that was simply chopped up sentences, with arbitrarily placed line endings. And did the occasional allusion really add anything? Pretentious? Moi? It was no ode to a nightingale. It was not even the song of a crow. You know that the emotions are real, that the attempt to convey the emotions was sincere enough, but it was not good. You know that because you read the good stuff, the hard stuff – the irritatingly printed collecteds (two or three poems to a page – no space to breathe, not enough whiteness of paper to let you think) and the Chatto and Windus and Faber hardbacks gathered in the school library from the 50s not just the starter kits passed round in the class room. Sure you’d had a quick taste of Larkin or MacCaig, but eventually that wasn’t enough. You had to go to the special room in the library, eventually that secret section of the bookshop where customers waited until no-one else is there and took the books off the shelf and flicked them open, standing still as they read, hearing the silent music. You’d read the artists, those who expressed a thought or feeling you’d had in a way that explained to you, and others, what you thought, what you felt. Images stuck with you. Lines. Stanzas. And reading the good stuff you knew that what you wrote failed those tests. But you knew, you still know that what you read touches you, takes your heart elsewhere, and with the work you loved, you still love, best you empathised, and understood yourself a little better. You shared Nina Cassian’s rejections, and the broken love affairs. You felt the numbness of the depression as Plath came across the sheep in the fog. You’re on the plane with Walcott coming into land. All those years ago when your teacher urged you (as gently as you can be urged) to stick to short stories and fiction you (occasionally) ignored him. You wrote poems sometimes, self-indulgent – your wife, years later, calls them. They’re still not good. You’re still aping the styles of those you love. But you kept, keep, reading. And you would have a less rich, a less full life without the poets.

About loveandgarbage

I watch the telly and read when not doing law stuff and plugging my decade and a half old unwatched Edinburgh fringe show.
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