the joy of autumn

the joy of autumn

I don’t know if it’s because one way and another I ended up spending a ridiculously long time in the academic system—schoolchild, student (several times!), lecturer, then student again—but to me autumn has always felt much more like the beginning of things than spring. The changes in light and landscape always wake in me a quiet excitement, a sense simultaneously of possibility and openings and yet also, with the longer evenings and nights, the opportunity for peace, retreat, renewal. That probably sounds paradoxical, I know. But it’s true. So that’s what this hymn to November is about.

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temporarily moving in the same direction

I love being on trains; or I did, BC. Like everyone else in the world I’ve crossed out many trips and treats from my diary over the last 8 months, and it seems such a long time since I enjoyed that licence-to-drift which train travel affords. So I was delighted to discover ‘Poem for Passengers‘ by Matthew Zapruder. It really captures the experience for me. See what you think.

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autumn beauty

This was one of the three poems that changed the course of my life. That sounds rather dramatic, but it’s true. We “Did” Yeats for A-level and I was blessed with one of those teachers whose capacity to inspire you feel at the time without really realising what’s going on. Without Stevie I don’t know if I would have “got” literature and followed it as student, teacher, writer, throughout my life. So this is a very important poem for me. Here it is: ‘The Wild Swans at Coole‘ by Yeats.*

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thank you

At the moment, the world is offering us lots of reminders that life is short and time’s winged chariot is always hurrying near. It’s easy to get sucked into fear, anger or sorrow about this. They’re all around us (as well as inside us). So I was particularly delighted to discover this poem which suggests a different and beautiful response to intimations of mortality. Here it is: ‘Thank you‘ by Ross Gay. Read it and be refreshed. (You can also hear him read a couple of bits from a recent book here.)

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now, what was that thing…?

Do you remember those Magic Eye pictures? I thought they were a craze in the 80s but according to their website it was the 90s (I seem to have mislaid a decade somewhere or other). The pictures came to mind this morning when I was trying to remember a name I’d forgotten: something about the way I had to stop striving to see the 3D image in order to be able to do so made me think of what it can be like these days trying to retrieve something from long-term mental storage. And that made me think of ‘Forgetfulness‘ by Billy Collins. If you can bear not to read it straight away, do click the red arrow by the title to hear the author reading it. It’s a great way to meet the poem.

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strangeness making sense

The other poem in my head while I was on holiday was one I almost always hear in there when I’m away from home: Larkin’s ‘The Importance of Elsewhere‘. The experience of being where no-one knows your name (apologies for the echo of the Cheers theme tune which may have just drifted across your mind) can feel safe or frightening, liberating or paralysing, and I’ve always loved Larkin’s exploration of these facts in this poem.

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the winged life

Everything there is to be said about the toxic potential of social media has already have been said somewhere else (probably on social media) so I won’t rehearse it here. And it’s true that the splicing together of commercials for our lives (rather then inhabiting them) isn’t quite what Wendell Berry’s splendid ‘The Vacation‘ is about; but it feels related, somehow. Besides, this was the poem which came to mind while I was away on my holiday. Here it is.

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beside the seaside

I am lucky enough to be retreating from Real Life for a while: a week (ish) away near the Galloway coast in a house where there’s no internet and only a very feeble, intermittent phone signal. So this column will be on holiday along with me, though back as usual in a fortnight’s time. To give you a virtual visit to the sort of place I’ll be, and a vision of the sorts of creatures I hope to be gazing upon, here’s the vivid and wonderful ‘Rhu Mor‘ by Norma MacCaig. (Unfortunately I can’t find this anywhere on the internet with the poet’s own layout on the page, so we’ll have to make do with this. As consolation, you can hear MacCaig himself reading it here.)

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an unlikely trio

It’s very often time for Mary Oliver, I find, though I know those who do not agree. For those readers, best pass by. Today I wanted to read ‘Wild Geese‘, so I am. I know most people have already read it. I know that (like other Oliver texts) it’s been plundered for Pinterest posts and self-help-seminar titles and many, many Inspirational Items (posters, mugs, t-shirts, who knows what). Still, its beauty and wisdom persist—just as the Mona Lisa survives being a jigsaw. So: enjoy ‘Wild Geese’ all over again (with the plus of hearing Oliver read it).

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