My child self reflects on poetry

There is a great emphasis in the Artist’s Way of becoming a child again. It sees childhood as a time of creative freedom, before we get all that imagination squashed out of us. A time that we were willing to try things out, to get things wrong, to learn, to see the magic in something simple.

Well, when I was a child, I was a rule-bound little shit.

I won’t say that I never had fun with coloured paper and glitter. And sing and dance around the house. But there were a lot of things that I thought you had to do the right way.

I was not very keen on poems at all. If I had to suffer poems, I thought they should rhyme and scan. They should be sensible, and not silly. Poems in collections of poems for kids were particularly likely to be consigned to the silly category. (I did make an exception for Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes – some of which I can still quote today. But I didn’t think of them as poems).

Poems in kid collections would often have silly kid words in them, and talk about snot and bogies in a “down with the kids” manner. (I was very proper and this completely horrified me.) They would be about football, or unicorns, or something equally stupid. Most of all, they would be full of boring easy words. I had grown out of boring easy words by the time I was six (I wasn’t measured, but my sister’s reading age was 12 when she left Primary 1.)

On the other hand, the adult poems in the house tended to be of the “Boy stood on the burning bridge” variety. I tripped over the occasional poem I liked (my mum would recite the odd “Quinquereme of Ninevah” – there’s a proper good word for you!) but tended to be too wrapped up in stories. And I was (still am) a terrible one for reading for gist rather than detail which doesn’t do any good with poems.

Discussion of poems at school meant we had to suffer them being destroyed by crap readers and then have some stupid discussion of what do all the words mean and what are the THEMES. Writing poetry was fill-in-the-blanks nonsense, or completely free form which caused the same panic in me as art class. For Higher English we studied Philip Larkin and I railed against having to answer questions about “what did the poet mean by the use of the word…”

My friend Liz, when I was at graduate school, pointed me towards poems I actually liked. I went to readings by Jo Shapcott and U A Fanthorpe and was surprised to be thoroughly absorbed. Later, I stuck a toe into the water of the Ledbury Poetry festival, strictly following her recommendations. Kate Clanchy, Colette Bryce, Ruth Padel. I started picking up poetry books to read at bus stops (I realised recently that I had hardly read any poetry in the 7 or 8 years since I bought a car. I am trying to remedy this quickly.)

And now I am thoroughly enjoying events like last night’s gig at the Jazz Bar where a load of fantastic Edinburgh poets read poems that may not have rhymed and had actual swear words in them. My 12-year old self would certainly not have approved at all. I have come a long way.

I guess I’m re-educating myself into being a different sort of child. One who is more willing to go with the flow. One who can just be captivated by sound. Who allows for playfulness.

I still love a good new word though.

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