Last weekend writer and friend Hannah Swithinbank posted the following request on her blog:
“Read me poetry, please”
She pointed out that poetry is best enjoyed when read aloud and that the nature of poetry means that the sounds created can add to the meaning as much as the words themselves. I immediately knew that this was a project that I wanted to be involved in because I love the idea of a virtual poetry club that I can participate in at my leisure without the pressure of another demand on my already busy schedule.
I never really studied poetry at school, apart from the obligatory Seamus Heaney and Carol Ann Duffy at GCSE. By the time I had analysed those few short verses to death I was certain that there was no merit in poetry as it didn’t appear to be something that could be read for enjoyment. Fortunately I had a housemate in my third year who loves poetry (so much so that she is now starting her Phd on the Romantic Poets) who encouraged me to give poetry a second chance.
I started with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and was gripped by the emotion in her work. Haunting, sad and hopeful. Next I listened to an old recording of Howl by Allen Ginsberg, it was like stepping through a portal into the wild existence of the Beat generation. I started to remember poems I had read as a child, Kubla Khan by Coleridge, Eldorado by Poe, The Highwayman by Noyes. Poems of adventure and daring, poems that built cities and events out of a dizzying arrangement of words. Following my interest and natural taste, reading for pleasure, poetry has become something that I savour. And when no one is in the house I will read it aloud, the echo of the words hanging tangible in the air around me.
Each initial reading of a new poem is something to be savoured. I have to give it my full attention, because I know that the feelings and pictures evoked by the first reading have to be remembered. Although with time I may gain a better understanding of a poem I find that nothing equals the first experience of it. Perhaps the best comparison is of catching a glimpse of the glittering water from the crest of a hill on the way to the seaside, although the vista when you arrive may be more splendid nothing beats the exhilaration of that first tantalising glimpse that announces you truly are on holiday.
I don’t understand the mechanics of poetry, I couldn’t explain to you how or why the poet creates atmosphere and emotion and certainly couldn’t expound any poetic devices, but I suspect that doesn’t matter. I suspect that poets want their work to create images in the readers’ mind and to sweep the audience along on a wave of emotion rather than be remembered for the structure of their couplets.
It is so much easier to lose yourself in a poem when listening to it, so I am really excited to take part in ‘Read me poetry, please’ in the hope that it might inspire more people to read and enjoy poetry.
The poem I chose to read is April Rise by Laurie Lee. It’s not an old favourite but one that I came across this morning. I have long admired Cider with Rosie for the way that Lee paints a picture of country life but had never read any of his poetry. In his poetry, like his prose he paints a vivid picture of a place and atmosphere. This poem reminds me of Silent Pool in Surrey and reminds me that our experience of poetry is always influenced by our personal archive of memories and pictures.
I’m still learning how to read poetry, still a novice, but it is something that I hope I will continue to engage in for years to come because there are so many poets out there who have used words to make something beautiful and exciting, and that surely deserves to be celebrated.