Sunday, 14 December 2008

Poetry on ice

Dear Diary,





The most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital.

George Steiner.


I am writing this with my dear cat Molly laying on my lap and I haven’t the heart to push her off so please accept my apologies if there are typing errors.

I just love Sundays, it is truly my favourite day of the week, especially in Winter when there are fewer folk around; no tourists, speeding motorcyclists, lorries and the like. Today I am blessed with another frosty, sunny day which draws me outside to see what treasures are awaiting me.

But Sundays have their own little routines. I fear I am getting Set in My Ways and there is No Hope. I have enjoyed a long lie-in with Edgar Sawtelle but this book is quite harrowing and I am getting in a bit of a state worrying about the outcome (you have to read it).



I breakfast on boiled eggs and listen to the tail end of The Archers (I am an addict) and then I just have to hear my favourite Desert Island Discs as I do a few indoor chores; today it is someone called Michael Healy, a film director. I am not well up on film directors but I gather he directed The Deerhunter. I quite like some of his music choices. He mentions he started school far too early and I am surprised when he says he was six years old! Then I realise he meant he was sent away to boarding school at the age of six and so grew up not having an idea of what family life was like and didn’t have a ’normal’ relationship with his mother and could never be a proper father himself. How sad is that? I had no idea of a normal family either so can empathise but my reason is an entirely different one.

Finally, chores over, I can layer up, gather the dogs and make my way out to the field. And as predicted, there is treasure indeed. As I enter the field gate with the dogs I look up in the sky, there are aeroplane trails in the sky and they are making a big cross sign - not a religious cross shape which might be appropriate for a Sabbath, but rather a huge kiss shape and it makes me smile.

The dogs and I have a good wander, well they mostly run and I mostly wander - there is ice underfoot, all the boggy parts and what we call the pond are still near-frozen though the brilliant Sun is doing her best to melt them. I come across a biggish puddle of ice and again I curse myself for forgetting to bring my camera because the shapes in the ice puddle are amazing. They resembles a lattice of highways criss-crossing each other, forming diamond shapes and other geometric patterns. How it has been formed I have no idea, it is not as symmetrical as a spider web, they also always look stunningly magical when frozen. Nearby is another little pool, this has rounded ice patterns, lots of little petal shapes. I consider going back to the cottage for my camera but with me laziness always wins and I make a mental note to send M out with his superior camera later on to see if he will capture this unusual phenomenon for me.  (The picture above is not taken here by the way).

We return to the garden, the sun is till shining, I haven’t seen one car and all is quiet and still. I do a bit of clearing up outside and fill up the bird feeders again. It is amazing how much time ‘just pottering’ takes, but on days like this it is a joy to be outside, the feel of warm sunshine on one’s face is such a treat in December.

I’ll sign off with a poem now.

I caught a part of Woman’s Hour this week and heard Daisy Goodwin talking about the BBC’s reading poetry aloud competition for schools. Back in the mists of time I was lucky enough to have an excellent grammar school education where the correct and proper use of English grammar was instilled in me. I have no complaints on that score, only a deep gratitude. My junior school education in South London was also excellent and we learned to spell (!) and to recite tables by rote so that by the time we left at eleven these things were second nature.

Unlike a lot of people I know I have never learned poems by rote and although I have such a passion for poetry now, I was never really inspired at school. For there we used to dissect poems, that much I remember and while doing so we would read them in class, taking it in turns - I remember the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner for one. I have studied English literature since leaving school, as a mature student and again it was all about pulling text apart and examining the use of language, something which to be honest, I have never quite felt happy with. I am always reminded of U A Fanthorpe’s poem when I get on this subject - I have blogged it before but for those of you who missed it, here it is again.


Dear Mr Lee
Dear Mr Lee (Mr Smart says
it's rude to call you Laurie, but that's
how I think of you, having lived with you
really all year), Dear Mr Lee
(Laurie) I just want you to know
I used to hate English, and Mr Smart
is roughly my least favourite person,
and as for Shakespeare (we're doing him too)
I think he's a national disaster, with all those jokes
that Mr Smart has to explain why they're jokes,
and even then no one thinks they're funny,
And T. Hughes and P. Larkin and that lot
in our anthology, not exactly a laugh a minute,
pretty gloomy really, so that's why
I wanted to say Dear Laurie (sorry) your book's
the one that made up for the others, if you
could see my copy you'd know it's lived
with me, stained with Coke and Kitkat
and when I had a cold, and I often
take you to bed with me to cheer me up
so Dear Laurie, I want to say sorry,
I didn't want to write a character-sketch
of your mother under headings, it seemed
wrong somehow when you'd made her so lovely,
and I didn't much like those questions
about social welfare in the rural community
and the seasons as perceived by an adolescent,
I didn't think you'd want your book
read that way, but bits of it I know by heart,
and I wish I had your uncles and your half-sisters
and lived in Slad, though Mr Smart says your view
of the class struggle is naïve, and the examiners
won't be impressed by me knowing so much by heart,
they'll be looking for terse and cogent answers
to their questions, but I'm not much good at terse and cogent,
I'd just like to be like you, not mind about being poor,
see everything bright and strange, the way you do,
and I've got the next one out of the Public Library,
about Spain, and I asked Mum about learning
to play the fiddle, but Mr Smart says Spain isn't
like that any more, it's all Timeshare villas
and Torremolinos, and how old were you
when you became a poet? (Mr Smart says for anyone
with my punctuation to consider poetry as a career
is enough to make the angels weep).

PS Dear Laurie, please don't feel guilty for
me failing the exam, it wasn't your fault,
it was mine, and Shakespeare's
and maybe Mr Smart's, I still love Cider
it hasn't made any difference.

U A Fanthorpe

I wonder what you think? Were you put off poetry at school? Were you made to learn poems off by heart and did that inspire you to read more or to write your own? Did you leave school with a love of poetry, a dislike for it or an indifference?

I was indifferent to reading poetry until I reached the romantic, adolescent phase and I started writing my own and what absolute rubbish it was. Romantic nonsense, but it must have been a need to get something out of my system. Is poetry always a form of therapy?

I have been trying to think of a poem that I would like to learn by heart and read aloud but so far have not been able to come up with anything. I am still on the case though. Can you think of one that you love enough to learn and recite by heart? Not one you were forced to learn as a child, but rather one that you yourself would choose? Perhaps you have written something that would fit the bill?

Poets visit schools these days and from personal experience I find that they really inspire the children to express themselves. The children need enthusiastic teachers as well of course, to encourage them and if they have access to a library and all the wonderful books of poetry about nowadays it is even better.

Reading aloud surely gives children confidence in ‘public speaking’ but I would prefer them to have a choice - either to read their own work or the work of a published poet that they themselves admire.

I shall leave you now,
Enjoy your Sunday,
Go mbeannai Dia duit,
Cait.

10 comments:

DJ Kirkby said...

ooooh your Sunday routine sounds delightful! I've given you an award on my Chez Aspie blog. xo

snailbeachshepherdess said...

Yes Cait - I was put off poetry at school - and Shakespeare, and Jane Austen but have found it to be like liver or olives an acquired taste later in life. But one poem I do remember with affection is the Dylan Thomas answer to East Enders - Under Milkwood - love it stll.

willow said...

Despite the fact that I was scolded for reciting a poem at "show and tell" in kindergarten, I have always adored poetry!

mountainear said...

A lot to think of there Cait.

I enjoyed poetry at school - especially in the 6th form when we were in smaller groups and we could really talk about it. The 'War Poets'were part of our A level syllabus - and reading then thoroughly has had a profound effect on my thinking and beliefs ever since.

And to read or know by heart? Robert Frost's 'Birches'.

Frances said...

Cait,

Your Sunday surely does sound very relaxing, very fulfilling, very much a source for wonderful thinking.

Now, you've got me thinking about poetry and me, back in my school days. I was horrified that the teacher would call on me, about The Proper Interpretation of The Poem, and that I was sure to get it wrong. I always did get it wrong, and now think that it is a great tribute to the power of poetry that even those tragic moments in front of giggling classmates, did not put me totally of the beauty of expression that comes from a poem.

Can you imagine that in my young adulthood I met up with a few poets, and was even considered a muse by one of them.

Every time that I arrive at your site, and read a poem that I have never before seen, and just feel my mind, soul, heart drawn to those words, I so rejoice.

xo

Pondside said...

Another interesting poetic choice, Cait. You always have something new (to me!)on your post.
When I was in school we were given a list, at the beginning of the year, of all the poems that were to be learned by heart. The order of the recititation was left up to the student, just so each poem was committed to memory by year's end.

kissa said...

Such a quality way to spend a day just pottering. I too have studied English for many years. I remember a poem about fences was it Robert Frost? My new discovery is a Scottish poet Kenneth Stephens.

LittleBrownDog said...

I learned a lot of poetry by heart as a child - mainly, I think, through having a lot of poetry read to me, I can't remember sitting down and learning it as such. But I'm very grateful for it, and many's the time one of the poems I have in my head has been a great comfort to me in times of stress or loneliness. I also love hearing poetry being read aloud (and am probably one of those annoying people who needs to read poetry aloud to make sense of it).

Lovely, thoughtful blog, as always.

Fennie said...

Lovely Sunday blog Cait. (Another boiled egg fan here too on Sundays when there's time). The poem almost makes me want to learn it by heart. It could be a good performance piece. I loved Laurie Lee and for a time I lived not far away from Slad.

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