Tag: poetry

the unbroken

A couple of years ago the 42 group began a December tradition of making a poetry advent calendar. We choose a topic and each contribute a few of our favourite poems which, with a great deal of sherry and swearing, I grapple into a vaguely consistent format, allotting a poem to each day of advent and emailing out the resulting document. This year our topic has been healing/reassurance/comfort, that sort of thing. The Christmas Eve poem a group member contributed was new to me—so beautiful and so apt for these strange times that, with apologies to group members who are seeing the same poem twice in one day, I share it here too. Delight in ‘The Unbroken‘ by Rashani.

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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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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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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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above the parapet

Like most people, I imagine, I’ve found it hard to keep going with my usual activities these last few months—including writing, though it’s central to my life both as process and product. There’s just so much energy needed to keep so much stuff at bay; so much effort going into not shouting with rage or terror or sheer frustration (well not in public anyway)… Time, I thought to do some celebrating. Share some good news for a change.

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a blessing

I’ve heard and read in many places these last few weeks a lot of stuff about how “we’re all in a heightened emotional state at the moment”: operating at a higher pitch; a bit more thin-skinned than usual. It’s not surprising. So I don’t know if it’s what’s going on in the macrocosm or in my own microcosm which makes me so susceptible to this poem, ‘A Blessing‘ by James Wright (have it read to you here). But susceptible I am. It moves me greatly. See what you think.

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the school in which we learn

I’ve no idea how well known this poem is, but it’s relatively new to me, and its refrains have been pulsing their steady rhythm through me for the last week or so. So here it is: ‘Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day‘ by Delmore Schwartz.

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