Today is Poetry Day in Ireland! What a great day to lose yourself in the rhythmic alchemy of language. Even if you’re not into poetry, just take the time, think of a topic that interests you and search for a poem on it: Love, Twilight, Death, Happiness, Thought, Paris, History – everything can be distilled into poetry and I guarantee you’ll find a poem on every imaginable theme. If you enjoy a sunset, the sound of the sea or the smell of rain – that makes you a poet. Listen to your heartbeat – poetry, as I’m writing I’m watching my Willow tree bend in the April breeze – more poetry, it’s everywhere!
I started reading and writing poetry in my final year in Secondary school. I studied all the usual suspects (mostly old angry men) but I persevered because something about the medium grabbed my attention more than anything else I was studying in those days. I remember reading Siegfried Sassoon Base Details a sarcastic poem about the indifference to front-line soldiers displayed by their officers, and tried to recreate my own version about life in the classroom! It probably sucked, but I enjoyed the word-play and the difficult search for descriptions. In college, I discovered Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker and I was off. Writing about myself, my feelings and desires, my heartbreak’s and fixes, everything from the ridiculous to the sublime. In later years Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Michael Hartnett, James Tate, Sharon Olds, Jane Hirshfield, Naomi Shihab Nye and many many more, became my companions. Poetry was a constant in my life, a second shadow, and it still is, almost 30yrs later!
I knocked at her doors for so long before realising she’d left a key under the pot! That’s the thing about poetry, if you want her she’s yours, you don’t even have to ask. If you’re lost, she’ll find you. So don’t be put off by academics who make out that poetry is only for the lofty, the high-brow or uber intelligent. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead listen to what Pablo Neruda, one of the great Latin American poets, had to say about poetry (and he knew a thing or two):
“On our earth, before writing was invented, before the printing press was invented, poetry flourished. That is why we know that poetry is like bread; it should be shared by all, by scholars and by peasants, by all our vast, incredible, extraordinary family of humanity”.
So, drop your guard, open a book of poetry and walk into your heart 🙂 This is one of my favourites, it’s Neruda, it’s his honest-to-goodness, wonderfully descriptive, personal poetic discovery, the moment poetry held him in her embrace. Translated by Alastair Reid from Mark Eisner’s Essential Neruda. it’s:
And it was at that age … poetry arrived
In search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
It came from, from winter or a river
I don’t know how of when,
No, they weren’t voices, they were not
Words, nor silence,
But from a street it called me,
From the branches of the night,
Abruptly from the others,
Among raging fires
Or returning alone,
There it was, without a face,
And it touched me.
I didn’t know what to say, my mouth
Had no way
My eyes were blind,
Something kicked in my soul,
Fever or forgotten wings,
And I made my own way,
Deciphering that fire,
And I wrote the first, faint line,
Faint, without substance, pure
Of one who knows nothing,
And suddenly I saw the heavens
The darkness perforated,
With arrows, fire and flowers,
The overpowering night, the universe.
And I, tiny being,
Drunk with the great starry
Likeness, image of
Felt myself a pure part
Of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars.
My heart broke loose with the wind.
Photo Credit: http://science-all.com/image.php?pic=/images/magic/magic-03.jpg