Tuesday, 3 October 2017

National Poetry Day - part 2

Poetry textbook from my schooldays
First published 1960, my edition 1981

Maybe the last post was a bit of a stress-fest. I think I am less and less keen on celebrations (Xmas=you must be happy, birthdays=ditto, National Poetry Day=you must overflow with love for poetry etc.) and they have the effect of sending me in the opposite direction (and there was a lot of National Poetry Day coverage in the media here this year...). I am a bit contrary, perhaps. This is not news.

But a couple of things cheered me up a bit (poetically/celebrationally speaking) so I wanted to mention those too. One was a TV show from the Hull 'Contains Strong Language' festival featuring a couple of poems I really got lost in (one by Zena Edwards, the other by Bohdan Piasecki). One of the things that unsettles me, I suppose, is how much poetry I really don't like (old and new). I feel like maybe I'm really in the wrong boat when these sensations rule the waves so it's always a great relief to encounter a poem or two that hit that 'oh, yes, I love this, do it again' button.

And then also, the day after National Poetry Day, poet Benjamin Zephaniah was a guest on the Lauren Laverne radio show on BBC 6 Music (the show is here for a little while longer, he's on in the last hour). He talked about poetry in pretty much the opposite way to the Don Paterson radio series I listened to all last week (which was great, very interesting, but depressing here and there for various reasons... see last post). Lovely, calming, positive, magnificent human that he is, Zephaniah said:

"If you are suffering, if you are going through change in your life, if you are confused, if you are feeling pain, that's the stuff of great poetry... especially when it comes to the kind of poetry I'm interested in, it really doesn't matter much about form as such... can you speak to me?"


"It's just words we use every day. Everybody... you all... can have poetic thoughts every day... and sometimes you forget them, you let them go... all we are doing is capturing them and remembering them and writing them down."

I'm not saying either one of them is right in their approach really (Paterson's perfect form or Zephaniah's more open book...) and in fact I enjoy listening to them both talk (I'm such a liberal...). I think maybe that, as a writer who sometimes feels kind of on the edge of everything, I need them both to keep me moving in any kind of direction. 

On the second day after National Poetry Day I listened to the last programme in the Paterson series (on Robert Frost's 'Design'). Frost was a poet I studied at school in the early 1980s (poems in the book pictured above - though 'Design' not one of them) and Paterson covers things like the (now pretty well-known) great misreading of 'The Road Not Taken' (or is it...? I suspect Frost changed his own mind from day to day). I felt less battered by the end of the series (I guess surviving the Plath episode* was a help) and ready to keep trying, here and there, to be the best writer I can be, whatever that is. Small steps, everybody, small steps...

*You can still hear my old Plath/Hughes/Larkin go raving poem 'Set text fever' here or read it here


The Bug said...

That first Zephaniah quote has been my poetry touchstone. I used to think that my life was too fabulous to write good poetry anymore (if mine ever was very good), but I've been through some rough stretches lately & that voice is still not there. Not that I've looked very hard for it.

Rachel Fox said...

You should listen to the whole Zephaniah interview on the show if it plays over there. I think you'd like it.

My urge to write poetry comes and goes... partly it goes if/when I feel I'm just repeating myself, I think. Also I think I write more poetry when I'm alone and you guys look like you have each other for company all the time just now so don't need silly old poetry!

A Cuban In London said...

I love Zephaniah, so thanks for that. I didn't even realise that it was National Poetry Day until the day after. I think they brought it forward this year.

I'm with you on Christmas and birthdays, by the way. :-)

greetings from London.

roth phallyka said...
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