I find it interesting how, when we start to do something like this, it opens our eyes to things we might not otherwise have noticed. It’s been like that with me and poetry. Maybe there’s another ‘seeing differently’ post in there somewhere?
I can’t resist another conversation with an old old friend. Who could? So today it’s back to Robert Frost, with Putting in the Seed. Very apt too, because that’s just what I must finally get round to doing today. The sun is shining, the weather is warm, there should be rain later in the week. Perfect conditions. And he captures so well the work of it, and the expectation and pleasure of it:
“Slave to a springtime passion for the earth”
I’ve taken to having a look on the internet to see what I could find out about each of the poems and poets I’m reading, and today I came across this blog post (by an American woman Diane Morrow), which I found thoughtful and interesting. You may enjoy reading it.
Usk – T S Eliot
Why, I wonder, did I copy this poem into the back of my volume of Robert Frost poems? I don’t recall, though I think it must have been long long ago, close to when I bought this volume from the second hand stall back in 1974. I had forgotten it was there until I read yesterday’s poem and the book fell open there, and also revealed another T S Eliot poem copied onto a loose sheet of paper.
For whatever reason, I re-read it today. I always enjoy hearing / reading Eliot’s poetry, ever since we studied some of it in English lessons for O level. And I once cycled through Usk on a cycle ride from near Bath to Dublin. It struck me as a magical place (though that could have had something to do with having cycled many many miles since I last ate, and being presented there with a giant sandwich and a slab of cake – probably not I think quite what T S Eliot had in mind when he wrote this).
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows – William Shakespeare. Well, it had to be something by Shakespeare, especially today as he was born some time around the end of April and 23 April is the anniversary of his death. It is also y0ungest son’s birthday, and he learnt part of this speech (from A Midsummer’s Night Dream) at school, which is how I first came across it (I remember testing him on it). So it was an obvious choice for today.
Shakespeare’s language is such an intimate and integral part of our everyday language that it would be impossible not to include him, and I’m honoured to have him here.
Timothy Winters – Charles Causley. Don’t for one moment imagine that all the Timothy Winters (and their sisters) disappeared with the Welfare State. Far from it, they’re still there and they’re still suffering in the same ways and more. As any teacher (at least those in the state sector) will be able to tell you. Causley captures it so well, but then he was a teacher and would have known many a Timothy Winter in his time. This poem gets me at the same level (and for the same reasons) as much of Blake’s poetry, only perhaps more so because this kind of poverty shouldn’t exist here or anywhere any more. And yet it does.
and the missing women are calling me again. So I turned to another anthology, this time Poetry Please, ‘100 popular poems from the BBC Radio 4 programme’.
Solitude – Ella Wheeler Wilcox
because of the title of the poem, and the poet is one of those elusive women. However, her view of solitude is entirely different to mine. I’ve increasingly realised that I crave and love solitude, by which I mean time chosen to be alone . That I think is quite different to loneliness, which I understand as unchosen aloneness (and it can be felt even though we are in the company of others).
In this poem Ella Wheeler Wilcox describes a world where, when trouble comes, people evaporate.
‘Laugh and the world laughs with you
Weep and you weep alone’
That, I’m glad to say, has not been and is not my experience. When trouble has come, I have been fortunate to have been carried and supported through by close family and friends, and the love has deepened and strengthened as a result. At one time I found myself facing a chasm of distress, and I felt the support I received to be a bridge that carried me over it to the other side and beyond.
I do know that for some people, the experience described in this poem is indeed the case, and I’m sad for them. Though I have also observed that sometimes people get what they expect to get from others, good or bad. I know that isn’t universally true, but it is worth being aware of as a possibility.
I didn’t enjoy reading this poem, I felt sad that the experience she describes does reflect what many of us feel when things in our lives are really difficult and we are struggling to bear it. I was glad to have read it though, and it made me think. Which is important.
A bit of ‘catch up’ cheating here, as somehow the time eluded me on days 6 and 7. But I made up for it big-time because later in the week we visited Hay-on-Wye, and the first bookshop I made for was the Poetry Bookshop – a treasure trove of a second hand book shop. I think my previous visit here in February was instrumental in giving me the idea for this challenge. I found exactly what I was looking for, with a little direction from Chris, the owner, and I also enjoyed a very engaging and interesting conversation with him that ranged far and wide – one of those moments that brighten any day.
What I was looking for (you’ve probably guessed) was some women. I was in luck: there on the shelf was just the book I needed – The Faber Book of 20th Century Women’s Poetry, edited by Fleur Adcock. Published in 1987, and as Fleur Adcock’s introduction makes clear, for all the reasons I have already identified about the invisibility of women poets.
I head straight for another of those old friends, Jenny Joseph and Warning – you may remember the line ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple’. Ha! why wait till I’m old? I’ve been wearing purple for years, and have been practicing the art of not being sober for quite a time now (though I do draw the line at spitting…). But I love the idea of challenging accepted boundaries and preconceptions about what it is appropriate for people to do at different ages and stages of life. Spending as much time as we have with older people and in care homes over the past few years, we have long ago learned that age is no predictor of maturity, sobriety, or anything else. And why on earth should it be? No, let’s be who we want to be whatever our age.
How Come the Truck-loads? – Judith Rodriguez. Here’s a poet and a poem I’ve never met before. It’s a brief poem that takes on a huge issue – how a tiny experience can ‘justify’ and underpin prejudice that goes on to have terrifying ramifications. Important for each of us to reflect on in these days of increasing inequality, horrifying images on our TV screens of desperate and exploited migrants and refugees drowning in the seas around Europe, and political parties eager to draw on fear and prejudice for their own ends. My search online reveals that she is an Australian poet, born in the 1930s.
I can hardly believe that I’ve reached the end of fourth week of this challenge. It’s been very enjoyable (though sometimes hard to fit in), and I’ve done what I intended, i.e. actually read some poetry, not just think about doing it.so ends another poetry week. Just two more days to go to the end of the month.