I recently finished reading Dart by Alice Oswald (Review here). Dart is a narrative about the River Dart in Devon. It is also a 48 page long poem. If you’d have told me even a few months ago that I’d be able to sit and read 48 pages of poetry and actually enjoy it, I’d definitely have laughed at you. It’s not that I don’t like poetry- I love it- but the idea of a poem that long is definitely off-putting. It sounds daunting, and like a lot of effort, as any poem that long would, but you’d be surprised. It seems to me that a lot of us have an aversion to reading poetry of any length – I suppose many people believe that it has to be difficult to understand and inaccessible, but this simply isn’t the case.
I think most people first experience ‘traditional’ poetry in school – poets like Dylan Thomas, Keats and T.S Eliot are probably what springs to mind if you were to ask most people what poets they’ve read; along with images of boring English lessons in stuffy classrooms (if my A Level teachers are reading this, I love you and remember that I did an English degree because of you – bear with!).
What most people forget is that this isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of poetry. Poetry isn’t just the GCSE anthology or Shakespearean sonnets. If you don’t enjoy this kind of poetry, there’s plenty more out there. Poetry can be fun and light hearted, and even for children – take this excerpt from Roald Dahl’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf’:
’That’s wrong!’ cried Wolf.
‘Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I’ve got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I’m going to eat you anyway.’
The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature’s head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.
A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, ‘Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.’
Of course, a lot of poetry is serious, and for adults, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be entertaining. The first time I properly felt like I engaged with ‘grown up’ poetry was in listening to a spoken word performance by Sarah Kay, entitled ‘B’ (If I Should Have A Daughter) (the actual poem ends at about 3:40 in this video). Yes, it’s a little bit pretentious, but it’s so engaging and optimistic. Poetry can be simple and fun, as well as deep and thought provoking.
Spoken word poetry also allows theatricality and performance to become part of the poem – it becomes more three dimensional. In the discussion after she performs, Kay mentions her introduction to spoken word poetry, and the ‘indignant’ first poem she ever performed, as a fourteen year old. I think if anyone thinks about teenagers writing poetry they probably think of angsty goth kids writing about death and destruction – but this isn’t the case either. Take these four girls, for example. ‘Halloween’ is political and yes, indignant, but it makes a point in an engaging way.
Poetry is powerful and unlimited, and can be about anything. Poetry can touch you in the same way that prose or music can, so why is there such an aversion to it? I believe everyone could find a poem that speaks to them in some way, even if that poem is simply an Edward Lear limerick that makes you laugh. Poetry doesn’t have to be complicated and elitist, and we don’t have to be scared to read it. Like most literature, poetry reflects life back to us; this might not be obvious in Romanticist poetry or Breton lais, but it’s by no means an art form that should be written off, if you’ll pardon the pun, just because we don’t always enjoy studying it at school.
I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites;
‘Still I Rise’ – Maya Angelou
‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ – W.B Yeats
‘OCD’ – Neil Hilborn
‘Pangur Bán’- Anonymous
http://poet.tips/ – This is a really cool website I found yesterday if you’re struggling to find new poets to read. You can type in the name of a poet you like, and the website will give you a list of recommendations for similar poets to check out!
See you soon,
PS – I know this is two days late and I need to stick to my own schedule!!
PPS – Featured image & image of Sarah Kay taken from videos linked above.