The other day I realised I couldn’t remember the last time I read a poem. I also realised that I wouldn’t dream of reviewing poetry on this blog. I was curious as to why and so looked back at my relationship with poetry so far.
Like a lot of people, I studied poetry at school – my lasting memory is having a GCSE anthology of poems we had to study for our exams. There was Keats, Carol Ann Duffy, Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney and Robert Browning. I enjoyed some poems; didn’t get along with others. I remember this feeling of wanting to like poetry more, but being unable to connect with it. Perhaps a lot of this had to do with the fact that we had to analyse them or because the majority of the poems weren’t contemporary and I’ve long realised that I connect more to contemporary work than the classics.
I left school feeling that poems existed in categories (sonnets, blank verse, haiku, etc.), a poem wasn’t a poem unless it fit certain characteristics, and that there was a special vocabulary you needed to describe poetry. It made poetry feel a little staid rather than the exciting form it can be.
As you may know, I studied English and Creative Writing at university and encountered poetry on both sides of my degree in my first year. My English poetry teacher was enthusiastic, but I have no memory of the poems we studied – I think that tells you how much I enjoyed the module… On the Creative Writing side, I enjoyed my seminars but struggled. Writing poetry didn’t come naturally to me at all; my poems turned out more like prose, perhaps because that was my comfort zone, because I didn’t feel courageous enough to try and break those ideas I had of what a poem is and should be.
In years two and three I managed to avoid studying poetry. But, being surrounded by creative people, I attended lots of new writing nights where writers would perform their poetry. I always came away feeling so inspired and would often end up writing my own poems. These were just for me and my own enjoyment, and I connected with poetry much more here than I ever did in the classroom. I also attended a poetry event at Foyles and saw Melissa Lee Houghton and John Wedgwood Clark read from their new collections. Perhaps it was seeing poems read aloud by their authors that gave me an emotional connection to poetry.
But, despite this positive experience, I haven’t really read any poetry since. I can’t put my finger on exactly why this is, apart from habit – I’ve always read books and am on the lookout for book recommendations, rather than poetry – and the fact that I feel a little excluded from poetry, a leftover emotion from my school days. And this is why I wouldn’t think of reviewing any here – I feel intimidated by the form; my inability to understand some of the imagery, metaphors or connotations has left me feeling that poetry is above me. I also don’t feel I have enough knowledge to have an opinion on a poem.
Lately, though, I’ve been drawn to the idea of reading and writing poetry, but my past experience has made me a little hesitant. I’d love to change this. I want to educate myself but, above all, I want to delve into the wealth of poetry that’s out there. I don’t want to exclude it just because I haven’t had an amazing experience so far.
So, in a bid to get me reading more poetry (and maybe you, too…) I’ve decided to read one poetry collection or anthology each month and then write about it on this blog. These posts definitely won’t be reviews – instead, they’ll be a subjective account of what I liked and didn’t, my experience of reading the collections, and any thoughts I had while reading. If anyone is interested in joining me on this journey of discovering poetry, I’d love to read the same collection and discuss the poems with you!
For my re-introduction into the world of poetry, I’ve picked up The Best British Poetry 2014 edited by Mark Ford and published by Salt from my local library. My first post will be up sometime in October.
What’s your experience been of poetry? Did you, like me, leave it behind after education or have you continued to read it since? Also, please let me know if you’d like to read The Best British Poetry 2014 along with me during October – it would be great to have you on board 🙂