Tuesday, March 15, 2011

52 Poems: Week 1


Item no. 37 on my Before I Go list is to read a new poem once a week for a year. I've always been enamoured with certain kinds of poems before, copied them out on scraps of paper and then hidden them away in notebooks. But I've never really actively searched for new poetry before. That's what this item is all about: coming into contact with something outside my own favourites.

So Week 1 of my 52 poems goal is about establishing the baseline and looking at the poems I already like and then, next week, I'll try and find something new.

Besides the little pieces of poetry in A.A. Milne's When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six books (and a strange love of the way he uses the word 'trousers'), the earliest poem I remember discovering and liking all on my own is Walter de la Mare's 'The Listeners', particularly when the rider shouted to the empty building: "Tell them I came, and no-one answered, that I kept my word".

The next poem to captivate me, after years of pulling poems apart in high school and tinkering with them like car engines, was Gerard Manley Hopkins' 'The Windhover'. It was a love time before I ever saw the dedication "To Christ Our Lord" and even then, the language he uses is glorious.
I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
  dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding...
I might just add learning this one by heart to my list. Besides the pleasure to be had simply from saying these strings of loveliness outloud, this poem is also now tied to an episode of Due South, when the mountie recounts the story of tracking a women through snow and sleat then, near frozen, reciting this poem to stay conscious and putting her fingers in his mouth to keep them warm.

When I was overseas, the house I lived in had a book of Leonard Cohen poems (the house had them because no-one knew who owned the book). Reading 'I wonder how many people in this city' felt like the ringing of a bell, the way I felt wandering through the streets of London before I knew it, before I knew anyone or they knew me. The other poem that delighted me was 'Gift', about handing someone a poem full of silence as a gift.


The last of my favourite poems is Ted Hughes, who I had detested without ever having bothered to read his work. His face, gruff and full of eyebrows, was enough for me to judge him. Then his Birthday Letters book was published and someone in the house had a copy. The red poppies on the cover leapt at me and, picking it up and expecting to be bored, I found this bothersome piece, 'Fate Playing'.
BECAUSE the message somehow met a goblin
Because precedents tripped your expectations
Because your London was still a kaleidoscope
Of names and places any jolt could scramble,
You waited mistaken. The bus from the North
Came in and emptied and I was not on it...
Something in it stuck to me and I've never been able to shake it loose.

Photo Source: Magnetic Poetry from Mr Giomini's Class Blog here on Blogsport; Ted Hughes from en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/19046

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