This is a picture I took last year of Back Beach at Riverton, Southland, NZ.
There are big waves and little waves,
Green waves and blue,
Waves you can jump over,
Waves that you dive through,
Waves that rise up
Like a great water wall,
Waves that swell softly
And don't break at all,
Waves that can whisper,
Waves that can roar
And tiny waves that run at you
Running on the shore
I believe this was the first poem I heard and truly appreciated as poetry.
Or it might have been ...
'Someone' by Walter de la Mare.
Someone came knocking
At my wee, small door;
Someone came knocking,
I'm sure, sure, sure.
I listened, I opened,
I looked to left and right,
But naught there was a-stirring
In the still, dark night.
Only the busy beetle
Tap-tapping in the wall,
Only from the forest
The screech-owl's call,
Only the cricket whistling
While the dewdrops fall,
So I know not who came knocking,
At all, at all, at all.
Both poems anyway, blew my six-year old mind. The power of words had begun.
When I was thirteen, 'The Force That Through The Green Fuse Drives The Flower' by Dylan Thomas also impacted.
(I seem to recall reading it at Wendon School, under a birch tree, around me the sound of blackbirds and the smell of gorse in flower ... but that could be a fancy.) Another poem I had pinned up for a long time on my bedroom wall, was part of a longer poem by Browning.
The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hill-side's dew-pearled
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in his Heaven -
All's right with the world!
There it was in between a picture
of Eden Kane on one side
(You'll be relieved to know my idea of 'good-looks' has changed! since those days.)
I was forced to memorise a number of poems at high school. The one I remember most was 'Ode To Autumn' by Keats. I relished the words as if they were food in my mouth.
I read poetry because it encapsulates something that is either universal or which I have experienced myself. I also read poetry for the delight of words and language being used in ways that surprise me. Much like the reasons why I watch a movie or listen to music, I like the experience of fine-ness. Of being entertained. Of having my need for an artistic or creative experience satisfied. For the way it engages with a part of my brain and lights up neurons that nothing else lights up in quite the same way.
I write poetry and have done all my life - ever since I was seven years old. It is a way of expressing myself that appeals to me. It is a way of chronicling my life and experiences. It forces me to reduce an experience or episode down to its sauce. (Yes, that's sauce, not source.)
Poetry is also a good way to get revenge on your enemies - or on anyone that has done you an injustice in the present or in the past. Oh yes! There is nothing quite so satisfying as getting your own back in a poem. Poetry can be a very handy weapon. I guess it all boils down to expression - it is a form of expression. A way of speaking out, or of.
My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature mainly because poetry is more succinct and faster. I have been known to read an entire book of poetry before going to sleep. But I always read a poetry book more than once because poetry is designed for multiple readings. I have a heap of poetry books and I read them over and over. Until about the last five years, I spent ten years reading poetry alone - nothing else.
I find poetry in landscape, everyday conversations and quirky episodes, memories, people, my family, love, hate, music, books, walking, loneliness and moods ... I find poetry in cafes when I sit by myself and write about what is around me. I find poetry most when I travel, when I am out in the country, when I am subjected to new experiences and when I go back to the place where I was brought up.
The last time I heard poetry was last week at a Poetry Reading and which I was part of. There was an abundance of poetry - some good, some bad. Some exquisite. Of my own? Well, I couldn't possibly comment.
I think poetry is like a song without music. Like stillness. Like something elusive caught, dissected and examined. A thing that startles. A thing with the power to quietly astonish.
Yesterday I wrote a poem about a song-thrush I saw out on our lawn. I haven't seen one for some time. They've been scarce in our quarter over the last few years. I was reminded of another poem I love, 'Pied Beauty' by Gerald Manly Hopkins.
(Here is part of it.)
Glory be to God for dappled things
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle trim.
How could I hope to follow that? But anyway, here goes ...
You are a long-legged, lawn-giraffe.
at seven years old,
covered in freckles
and no front teeth.
Your beak is a sewing machine's jab,
a needle, a stiletto's heel.
A mottled-skinned gardener,
When the grey cat hunches, a missile
poised, I clap my hands
before shadows dappled
now and pretty, turn
to steel and a hot-breath, sun-round mouth,
picks and rips
the tiny bone-cage that is you,
trapped under feathers
of burnt-honey suede.