It was studying for an OU Diploma in Literature in Creative Writing five years ago, which rekindled my love of poetry, both of writing and reading it. I signed up for the course because I wanted to push myself beyond my usual comfort zone and whilst I've always dabbled with writing poetry, it had been a long time since I'd produced any for outside scrutiny. Although I've collected many volumes of poetry over the years, it was also an utter joy to have the opportunity to immerse myself in other writers' work.
Perversely, it was a punishment which sparked my interest in poetry. I'm five and a half years older than my sister so had quite a solitary early childhood. Consequently, when I went to school and discovered other children, I couldn't stop talking - even when I wasn't supposed to!
By junior school, I still hadn't learnt when to be quiet so earned my first detention; I was made to stay in the classroom at lunch time and learn, by heart, John Masefield's Sea Fever. I've forgotten the name of the teacher, but whoever she was she did me an immense favour both by introducing me to the beauty of words and softening me up for many years later when I fell in love with a keen sailor and thought how romantic the thought of sleeping under starry skies in quiet little anchorage sounded. That was until we bought a vintage wooden boat and I discovered how prone to seasickness I am! Sea fever, indeed!
I find reading poetry a great solace and always keep a couple of favourite volumes to hand. One I particularly like – and which I've given away several times as a present - is a beautiful book I discovered at the Hay Festival, Poems of Love and Longing (links below) by Welsh publisher, Pont Books.
I especially love Chris Kinsey's beautiful and moving sequence of poems about her greyhounds. Another two great favorites are also by Welsh poets; Gillian Clarke's Collected Poems and Owen Sheers's Skirrid Hill.
Letting fly with my own poetry was hard, but for anyone who's struggling with the same problem I'd recommend an exercise I had to do for an OU tutorial which was to write a poem based on a photograph. The rules were that only two adjectives were allowed and no more than 30 minutes to be spend writing it (ok, I ran over on that by five minutes as it was so hard to let myself go in the time.) I chose a photograph of a mother showing her daughter how to knit and this is what I came up with:
A lightning flash of silver needles
pierce the cloud of wool.
Twisting the mist into a waterfall,
she glimpses another storm warning
on her daughter's face.
Small hands paddle,
scoop up net and needles, slippery as
mackerels in the basket of her lap
where stitches fall.
Knit one, purl one. Together they catch them.
And sometimes, by letting the words fly, you can surprise even yourself – I was thrilled to bits when my poem, Breaking the Ground was chosen by Honno Welsh Women's Press as their Poem of the Month in March this year (http://www.honno.co.uk/potmmar14.php). So, go on, rediscover the pleasures of poetry, both reading and writing it – you've everything to gain.
Poems of Love and Longing
Gillian Clarke, Collected Poems
Owen Sheers, Skirrid Hill