Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Eng Lit, poetry and creativity

I have just read the inspirational book, 'Some kids I taught and what they taught me' by Kate Clanchy. It's eye-opening in many ways, and so good on poetry. One thing which really resonated was the piece about studying English at school and onwards, which includes this:

'In English, we assess and value only that last part of the learning process: the meta-language and the critical essay.'

At school my English teachers were not inspirational, did not give me a love of reading and writing or encourage creativity. Nor did they even, at A level, succeed in helping most students get good grades. I got a good enough grade to study English Language and Literature at University, and found that, again, I was not inspired, but at least, and it probably is least, I learnt the meta-language and how to write critical essays well enough to get a 2.1. As soon as I left University I swore I would never write like that again or read something in such a way that I could write like that.

However, possibly helped by seeing 'Educating Rita', (that should give you some idea how long ago this was) I realised that I now had a choice. I could read and write in a way that got me good exam grades or equivalent in the wider world, or indeed because it does have a value if used well, but I could also read and write what I wanted, and respond how I wanted, for the love of it and for what it brings to me personally and in terms of knowledge and joy. I could be as creative as I wanted. (Kate Clanchy writes so well on this.)

So why did I study Eng Lit to A level and degree? Almost certainly because I did have a good teacher - at home - my Dad - and he kept me going. My love of reading and writing, especially poetry, comes from him. He was a primary school teacher - a brilliant one. I am extraordinarily lucky to have had him as my Dad. Kate Clanchy shows in her book how children can be inspired and given control and power through reading and writing creatively. Her students, I think, were lucky to have known her. So many do not have that luck. Lockdown and the lack of access to learning has highlighted how disadvantaged people, in particular, miss out, as has the exam fiasco, but they miss out in so many ways, and we all will if we don't value all aspects of a person's life and potential and creativity.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Poetry and me at the moment

I've been reading even more poetry than usual over the last few months (and there is a lot of poetry out there to read). A lot of it has been by poets totally new to me. I've been surprised at times by what I've liked - and by how different from each other the poems are that I've liked. I've also been surprised that I haven't liked some poetry that has had very enticing reviews, and yes, I know, different people like different things. I use 'like' here to cover a multitude of  positive responses - poetry can move you in so many different ways, and sometimes it just doesn't work for you right now. It's great, though, to see the diversity of poetry out there, and it's also great to see how well the poetry presses have responded to the current crisis.

I've also realised that my own poetry has recently changed direction - and style. Well, hopefully it's been developing before that, but now it feels different. I know that for quite some time I have wanted some particular poems I have written to be published as a pamphlet/collection. Some of them have been published/accepted in magazines, for which I am very grateful, and have also been online, but it seemed to mean a lot to me that they got published together. At the moment I don't think that's going to happen. I have made changes to some of them (though I'm not sure I should have), and mixed them in with newer ones that have been published/accepted separately, but maybe they are a thing of the past and should stay there. Maybe they were just not good enough overall or didn't work together. There's a lot of competition out there and other factors involved too, and yes, different people like different things. Whatever the case is, they had their purpose, and they're still there for me, and for the people to whom they would mean the most, who have already seen them anyway.

Those poems were largely about remembering, trying to understand, to explain, maybe. They were very autobiographical, personal. I don't think you can actually ever get away from that entirely, or indeed whether you should entirely - we write from who we are after all, but I notice my more recent work is more outward-looking. I'm not sure if that was a conscious decision, or has been influenced by what I've read, or whether that's just where I am at the moment. Maybe it should have happened sooner. It wasn't that I didn't look outwards before, it's just that I wasn't sure how to respond. Certainly the current situation is one where change is a part of daily life and it would be hard not to respond to that somehow. My earlier poems drew very much on the natural world, particularly birds, and I don't think that will disappear, but maybe now it will be from a different angle. There are a lot of new areas I want to explore now too. I'll keep working on it anyway, and see if that connects with others, the way others do with me - and I'll try to remember that different people like different things.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Feeling better

 How I feel a lot of the time (you may have noticed this is currently my profile pic):

Some of the things that have made me feel better recently:




Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Surreal times

No dawn chorus this morning.

As the light began to seep into the garden a figure appeared as if to mark the new day. 

It did nothing to lighten my mood.

And it hasn't moved for hours.

The feeders need topping up and the bowl needs refilling, but I'm not going out there. 

How I long for the days when the wildlife in the garden seemed less threatening.

No less bizarre, but definitely friendlier - look at that face.

I get a call from a neighbour. Apparently the queues at Iceland are getting shorter.

They still haven't quite got the hang of it though.

And there's still no chance of a home delivery, but there's word of a new p-p-p-pick up service.

At least it's Spring, and swifts can be seen again. 

I see one every day from my window.

It's odd though, because it's been in the same place every day since Christmas.

But then these are surreal times.

Monday, 30 March 2020

The poetry of birds

My bird poetry quiz - if you saw it (if not, just scroll down to previous post) - relied heavily on The Poetry of Birds as the source of quotes. The quotes I selected for the quiz were all from well-known poets, with, I hoped, descriptions of relatively recognisable birds.

I love birds and poetry - I notice poems with birds in them. In The Poetry of Birds, Simon Armitage says 'Poets, I believe, seek and find in the world of birds unlimited and unequalled reflections of their own world.'

As I was going through the book, and in reading other poetry recently, I noted down a few of my favourite of these poems, which I thought I'd share. At the moment, I'm looking at birds and poetry to escape the world, and my choice doubtless reflects that.

From The Poetry of Birds, ed Simon Armitage & Tim Dee (Penguin) (though these poems are available elsewhere):

The Heron - Paul Farley: 

' struggles
into its wings then soars sunwards and throws
its huge overcoat across the earth.'

(though it's the cursing man image in this poem that I like most)

Rhu Mor - Norman MacCaig

'Gannets fall like the heads of tridents...'

My Crow - Raymond Carver

'...This was just a crow.
That never fit in anywhere in its life,
or did anything worth mentioning....'

From other pamphlets/collections:

Hedging - Hamish Whyte, from Now the Robin  (Happenstance) - a lovely little book, that made me smile.

Sparrows - Amanda Huggins, from The Collective Nouns for Birds (Maytree) - a beautiful book, that made me cry.

Wader Flock,Thornham Harbour and Pluvialis - Matt Merritt, from hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica (Nine Arches)

Starlings and West Sussex Interlude - Matt Merritt, from The Elephant Tests (Nine Arches)

- almost impossible to narrow it down even to two poems from each of these wonderful collections

I would also recommend Diversifly, Poetry and Art on Britain's Urban Birds,  ed Nadia Kingsley (Fair Acre)

I appreciate that these are just a few of many, many poems, and I'd be very happy to hear some of your favourites.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Bird Poetry Quiz

A distraction for me, and hopefully for you. Open to all. Extracts from poems. One point for the bird, one for the poet. There are no prizes - sorry.

1. Art thou the bird whom Man loves best

2. It was the Rainbow gave thee birth

3.Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white

4. Our most hardened crooks are sincerely shocked by your nesting habits

5. Thou scorner of the ground!

6. Burglar Alarm of the undergrowth

7. I love to see these chimney sweeps sail by

8. Mostly it is a pale face hovering in the afterdraught of the spirit

9. High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

10. Warbl'st at eve, when all the woods are still

Good luck! Answers below

1. Robin - Wordsworth
2. Kingfisher - W H Davies
3. Whooper Swan - Heaney
4. Cuckoo - Auden
5. Skylark - Shelley
6. Wren - Ted Hughes
7. Carrion Crow - Clare
8. Barn Owl - R S Thomas
9. Kestrel - G M Hopkins
10. Nightingale - Milton 

How did you get on?

Friday, 28 February 2020

A surprising reaction to the poems of John Betjeman

The Poetry Group I started online is now meeting face to face. It appears that some of our computers won't talk to each other and even when they do, all the messages get mixed up together and it's difficult to follow them. Also, many people prefer talking in person. So we're now meeting as and when as many members as possible are available, in a venue which is nice, if a little busy, which everyone can get to. It's a start.

We had started online with MacNeice - this largely elicited a negative response - form over content, too difficult... My attempts to argue for MacNeice were unsuccessful. People said they wanted something 'lighter' (undefined), and one or two people suggested John Betjeman, so we thought we'd give that a try.

In our comfortable-ish new meeting place, we started our discussion of Betjeman's poems. It did not go as I expected. Each person had chosen a poem to talk about. What happened was that people talked about really personal and often moving experiences, none of them happy ones. When we talked more, people recognised that their responses were not always really related to the poems themselves, and that their experiences had very much coloured their view of the poems. 

It highlighted incredibly strongly how much we bring ourselves to every poem we read - the things that have happened in our lives, our beliefs, everything. This is not a revelation, of course, but I did find it surprising that this kind of discussion was in response to the poems of Betjeman, as did the others when I mentioned it. Everyone said they were happy with the meeting though, and felt that poetry had got them thinking, so that feels right and we'll see how it progresses.

We are moving onto Robert Frost next - I'm really not sure what to expect from that now!