Thursday, 28 September 2017

Ten poems I take with me

Today is National Poetry Day and that got me wondering what poems mean to me. They can put into words things that up until then have only been feelings. For me, certain poems crystallise moments. If I go back to them, they hold both the past and new discoveries. So there are a few poems I take with me through my life. When I was looking for them, I realised that I have a much-loved collection of anthologies that I often turn to.
I was given this book for my 7th birthday, and the poem I loved most was E.V. Rieu's Mr Blob. It's about a drawing that gets rubbed out. Although it's a witty poem, I always thought it was sad too. 
This anthology by Walter de la Mare is an unusual and intriguing one.
On the cover, the same scene is beautifully shown in daylight and twilight, designed by Erik Blegvad. Here I found The Snare by James Stephens. It begins with a rabbit's scream and ends with the poet promising the rabbit that he will keep looking for it. Like Mr Blob, this poem now seems to me to be about much more than it first seems.I remember the first time a poem unexpectedly jumped out at me. It was when I was in year 8, in English, and I found this poem by Tennyson's poemThe splendour falls on castle wallsI loved the rhythm of the poem and the way that it seemed to put into words the feeling that I got from being in nature. The line 'Our echoes roll from soul to soul' seemed both so mysterious and so familiar that it gave me a thrill. 
Another poem full of mystery is Walter de la Mare's The Listeners. This is such a well-loved poem that it ends up in lots of children's anthologies. Here's mine:
It's never clear who the shadowy presences in the empty house are, so the poem leaves you with a haunting sense of there being more to know. I loved it so much that I illustrated it when I was at college.
I also illustrated Stevie Smith's Not Waving But Drowning,  a deceptively simple short poem which heartbreakingly explores how someone's persona can be at great odds with what's really going on inside. Now that we have social media and all the pressure that brings to present our most successful side, this poem seems even more relevant than ever.
When I was 16 I found a collection of poems by ee cummings. I was drawn in by the lack of capital letters, even in his name, and I found Anyone Lived in a Pretty How Town. I loved how it rhymed but was also completely untraditional. 'Anyone' and 'noone' are both their usual meanings and also names of individuals.  
  
This was one of my coursebooks when I studied English. I loved Christina Rosetti's haunting poems with their quiet reflectiveness that often turns a sad thought round. In this poemRemember, she finishes with: Better by far you should forget and smile Than that you should remember and be sadFor me the clever thing about the poem is that these lines are the lost person's remaining love, because nobody would really choose to 'forget and smile'. Somehow this gap is what keeps the two, one living, one dead, still close.  
This beautiful anthology arranges its poems by mood and situation, so it's great if you want to choose a poem to put in a card. It has a section on 'True Love' and for me the definitive love poem is Elizabeth Barrett Browning's famous sonnet from Sonnets from the Portuguese. It begins with a question: How do I love thee? and answers it at the end: I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears of all my life!

On the tube, poems instead of adverts make a welcome change. They have to be short to fit in their little space and to be able to be quickly read. One that I love is Sheenagh Pugh's Sometimes. In this poem she looks at how things aren't always as bad as they seem. It's a very honest poem, because at the end there is a wish, almost a prayer, that even in the saddest of times eventually even this can 'melt'.

This is my newest anthology, a Christmas present a year or so ago. Many of my favourites are in here, but I'd like to finish with Marianne Moore's I may, I might, I must. This wee poem only has four lines. I'm trying not to breach copyright, and in a poem of only 27 words, I don't think I can quote any of them at all! But it's worth finding. I love this poem. The poet says that when she's been told that something is impossible, she will immediately look for ways to do it. But of course, I can't put it in other words without losing it. That's the whole magic of poems.

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