In which a prose reader trips lightly through the serried pages of a poetry anthology in search of her better self.
Poetry seems to be like Marmite, people are either 100% in or they can’t bear it. It’s real ‘love or loathe’ territory. Occasionally, though, you get the odd ones, like me, who like it with cheese on toast, but not on it’s own or with eggs. The Marmite¹, not the poetry. Not that I’m excluding you if you only like to read poetry whilst eating cheese on toast. On the other hand if eat Marmite with eggs, reading poetry or not, you need to take a good hard look at your life.
Where was I?
Right, so, whilst I have never been much of a poetry reader there is poetry I love (Ozymandius, pretty much any of Eliot’s Practical Cats, The Smuggler’s Song), and there are poets I have read extensively: Kipling. Pam Ayres… A.A.Milne², kind of, but occasionally I find myself envying serious poetry readers just a little bit.
Poetry just seems to be so much more…profound. More esoteric, enigmatic. There’s a sense that it is somehow more honest or pure. Part of that stems from the position of poetry as the original medium for storytelling. Back in the days of the oral tradition rhythm & rhyme made it easier for bards, and keepers of the tradition to remember the thousands of tales and songs and parables that they had to know, so poetry reaches back into the shrouded mists of human evolution to a time that quite literally pre-dates the written word. By comparison the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein’s Monster, was written a measly two hundred years ago, and the first fully-fictional detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, only a hundred and seventy seven. Prose is still in junior school buzzing on the blue slushies and laughing at Johnny farting the alphabet.
Probably it’s this arcane antecedence that gives poetry this abstruse and recherché quality, or maybe poets just write from a purer and less constructed part of their soul, deliberately reaching for the undeliberated, but certainly poetry readers seem to get more from their texts than I generally get from my intricately constructed mass-market, pulp-fiction crime and fantasy books. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong a good story, I love them. Also, I’m a demon deconstructor. I can find nuance in an Andrex ad³. I can read into even the most superficial texts and find something more, but…poetry just seems to start with more. More elan. More merit. More worth. It’s like comparing Kenco instant coffee to coffee beans shat out by a Palm Civet. You love the Kenco, it tastes good, and it gives you the coffee buzz that you want but even though you know that paying ten times as much for pooped out coffee has to be a con, you can’t help wondering if – maybe – the drinkers know something you don’t: maybe you are missing out. And there’s only one way to find out.
I’m going to find out if the Civet shit coffee tastes amazing*: I’m going to start reading poetry.
As a child my mother would read to me from The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse and I loved it but I remember very clearly how we seemed to get stuck on half a dozen of the two or three hundred poems it contained. It may have slipped past you up there ^ but I’m not the most adventurous poetry reader. I like what I like. So to remove the risk of me heading straight for my bolt-holes, and ensure variety in my reading I have handed all responsibility over to Allie Esiri, editor of A Poem For Every Night of the Year. There are no choices to be made with this book. You open it every night to the appropriate date and read whatever poem Allie has chosen for you. It’s perfect. I’m going to read it, and I’m going to tell you about it along the way. Not everyday, that would be tedious, and I’d probably get sued by the publishers for laying out their entire product for you to look up online for free, but occasionally, when I feel I have something to actually say.
¹This is a lie. For the record I love Marmite in all bread-related scenarios, and even as an additive to non-bread related cooking.
²If Now We Are Six can be considered ‘extensive’.
³Andrex is bought by lovely, joyous, fun, open-hearted people who don’t mind having their homes trashed by hordes of rampaging barbarian puppies. If you want people to think you are that lovely buy Andrex, because: puppies. If you don’t want people to think that you that lovely then you are wrong-minded and should still buy Andrex because: puppies.
On the other hand they stamp puppies onto the paper. You are literally wiping your bum on puppies.
*I’m definitely not, it was a metaphor. Nothing on this planet could get me to put something that has passed through a cat’s rectum into my mouth, and I certainly wouldn’t pay that much for the privilege!