It’s simple really – I love poetry and I love to write, so it makes sense (or so everyone tells me!)
So here I am, all set to write my very first blog post about poetry.
Where to begin? What would my public want to hear?
If you were reading this, and you happened upon it because you like poetry, or because you’d like to like poetry but don’t (Yet!) what should I be telling you? How can I draw you in, seduce you into the ebb and flow, the rhythm of rhyme, the mesmerism of metre, how should I start.
My earliest memory of poetry is my mother reciting poems she had learned by heart at Miss Burke’s Academy. This always required her special voice, which had its own patterns of enunciation, pause, breath, effect. It was a serious and beautiful business.
The poems my mother recited were not children’s poems but we loved them like favourite stories. I can yet hear “the bittern cry in the wild sky” in the lament for Thomas McDonagh or be transported, as I recall the rhythmic words, to the magic and exotic space of Katmandu, land of the one eyed yellow idol and a broken hearted woman.
Our all time favourite though was the maudlin Papa’s Letter and we begged my mother to recite it on any occasion, to hear over and over the tragic story of the little boy who wanted to post himself as a letter to his father in heaven. I can still see the stamp, hear the clatter of his shoes on the staircase, or the “shriek of childish terror” as it rang out “on the autumn air”. Yes, these indeed were serious and beautiful moments but perhaps not always great poetry. The poem is a hand, a hook, a prayer writes Hirsch. As a child I was hooked, captivated by the spoken poem.
I was about six or seven when I discovered metaphor. Of course I didn’t know then that was what it was called. I had been learning The Magic Piper (a poem by E.L Marsh) for my elocution class. Probably around the same time I had been introduced to the Pied Piper and had developed a curiosity for these beings that children followed at such a terrible cost. But what I most remember about the poem (and I can still recite it by heart) was that this Piper’s name was Spring. The concreteness of the piper playing a strange music that woke up all the small animals, greened the wood, caused the flowers to grow and the birds to sing was truly enchanting. The rhythm of the words, the telling of a story and the surprise of the metaphor is with me to this day. And it is still magic – that one could say something in terms of something else and cause such enchantment and surprise.
So much of the poet’s task is to find the right metaphor, to lift the poem into the transcendent so that it might soar and sing. My own work in academia left me with a tendency towards abstract thoughts and much of my learning over the last few years has been about a search for metaphors that might lift experience from the abstract or from the prosaic mundane into the lyric song. William Stafford’s poem on the day he met his Muse opens with the lines, “I glanced at her and took my glasses/off. They were still singing”. This plunge into metaphor breaks open my world, breaks my heart, and calls me home. I too would follow her anywhere, allow her to live with me so that “every glance at the world” around me might become “a sort of salvation” (William Stafford).