The Best British Poetry 2014 is the first book in my journey of rediscovering poetry (you can read more about my reasons for doing this here). It basically boils down to the fact that I’ve felt excluded from poetry in the past and so have been left feeling as if it just isn’t for me. I don’t want to give up though, and I’m excited to start discovering it again, without the restrictions or constraints of school, and hopefully give myself more confidence in talking about poetry.
Mark Ford’s introduction to The Best British Poetry 2014 gave me confidence from the beginning. Talking about his process of selecting poems for the anthology he writes:
‘In the end, probably like most editors, I just went on my nerve: a poem rings one’s bell, or it doesn’t; or it almost does, but then it doesn’t quite; or it doesn’t look like it’s going to, but wasn’t that last line good?’ p x
This line gave me the confidence to dive into the collection and not worry about what I should like or whether I should understand something or not. My experience of reading the anthology felt similar to what Ford writes about in the above quote: there were poems I liked from the first line; others that missed the mark by the end; or some that I wasn’t keen on but then a beautiful line or thought changed my mind. His introduction also made me realise that this anthology is this editor’s choice of poems that he considers the best from that year. Just like with other literature, if I don’t like it, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean I’m not clever enough for poetry or it’s above me. It just means I don’t like that poem.
I found reading the poems a different experience to reading novels or short stories. Reading the poems out loud helped me connect to them much more than when I read them in my head as I would with a novel. Feeling the rise and fall of my voice in the lines, hearing my emphasis, the pauses and rhythm of the lines helped hugely, not only in understanding the poems but in connecting with them. I have no idea if I paused or took breaths in the moments the poet intended, but I don’t think it matters. Reading them aloud made them more mine and my experience of these words.
I found myself reaching for a dictionary more with poetry than I do with novels or short stories. Sometimes this added to my feeling that poetry is above me but ultimately it gave me the idea that there’s a preciseness to poetry (not that there isn’t with other forms). Because of the brevity of a poem, every word counts and that word I’ve had to look up is the perfect one for that line or image. Throughout reading, I got the sense that a poem is something that needs unlocking. Its meaning isn’t handed to me on a plate; I have to work to understand it, and when I do, it can be very rewarding.
While reading some of the poems, I often thought, why is there a line break there? Why is there an indent? What is the purpose or intention of it? And when I’m not sure of the answer, I got the feeling that I’d missed something. But the further I got into the anthology, the less concerned I became. I just moved on, or came back to the poem later. I reminded myself of Mark Ford’s words in his introduction that sometimes a poem works for you, and sometimes it doesn’t.
It was difficult, at first, to get into the habit of reading poetry, and I’m still discovering what works best for me. I’ve found that reading a few poems in one sitting can work well, but reading too many at once can lessen the impact of the words. If a poem was particularly powerful or thought-provoking, I’d put the anthology aside and mull it over for a while before returning. I think an anthology is something to dip in and out of, rather than reading during a long session.
This anthology has left me excited to explore more poetry. From here, I’d like to look into the collections of the poets whose poems I loved in this anthology.
Have you read any poetry lately?