Friday, March 30, 2012

Finding my feet with poetry

When I was younger, somebody gave me a book of children's poetry as a present. And for a challenge to myself, I tried to memorise as many of the poems as I could. It was fun, but it didn't really inspire me to love poetry or seek more out in any way.

And though I loved Shel Silverstein and the works of Dr Seuss as much as the next child, poetry was always a thing I just never really got. Occasionally as I grew older, I'd try to read more of it because I thought I 'should.' After I read The Bell Jar, I started reading some of Sylvia Plath's poetry ... I tried Emily Dickinson and The Romantics. Nothing really seemed to stick in my head and I couldn't really grasp or understand. I just figured that poetry and I would just never get along.

But that isn't really the case. When a poem or poetry is inserted into the narrative of a book, sometimes I really love it. And giving the poem meaning in this way, I've found that there are some poetry now that I love so wholly and completely that I can no longer really say that poetry and I don't mix. I thought today, I would share the stories that have helped me along finding my feet in poetry.

The Outsiders by SE Hinton - The book I immediately thought of when I was planning out this blog post was always going to be The Outsiders by SE Hinton. I don't think there's ever been a book more influential to me than The Outsiders. I've read the book dozens of times and it never fails to make an emotional impact. I sob like a baby every single time I read it. Always.

And it's the first book that I really remember in which a poem is added to the story in a meaningful way. And that poem will stay with me until forever. I remember picking up a collection of Robert Frost's poetry after I read The Outsiders and while the rest of his poetry flew over my head entirely, I also found Stopping By Woods and The Road Not Taken to be poems that I could relate to. Nothing Gold Can Stay will always be my favourite though.

And while I couldn't love The Outsiders anymore than I do, I also mostly enjoyed the film version too.

Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - When I was in my first year of high school, I admit, I was pretty crazy about Romeo and Juliet. The story of star-crossed lovers and that tragic turn of events really went along with my overemotional hormones at the time and I really believed that love had to be epic or broken or hopeless in some way for it to be real. My love for R+J was helped along by the film version starring a certain celebrity crush but even before that, I'd already memorised long passages of the play, just for fun. I was like that then. I'm still like that.

And after reading and enjoying one Shakespeare play, I figured why should I stop? I carried on reading more, but it sort of stop and go. I especially loved Shakespeare's sonnets, and even more so when a sonnet appeared in an episode of My So-Called Life. Jordan Catalano discussing the meaning of love and poetry and Shakespeare? Swoon-fest.

Sonnet 130

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou - I can't remember now if I had to read the entire book as required reading for a class or if it was just an excerpt. Either way, I was never the type of student to just settle for reading a section of a book instead of the whole thing. And I took one step farther and picked up the next several volumes of Maya Angelou's autobiography. I still have copies of them somewhere, though I don't think I've ever read them all.

I really love the lyrical way in which Maya Angelou writes and the way in which she speaks. I've recently read and loved her Letter to My Daughter and I think it's a beautifully written book. I've only ever read a couple of Maya Angelou's poems. Her famous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, obviously, as well as one or two more. But I really, really love Still I Rise. I read it and I feel like rising myself and I feel ... hope for better things.

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Matched by Ally Condie - Reading a book like Matched sort of opened my eyes to how much I've always taken poetry for granted and how little I've read of it or cared for it. But the idea of a society in which everything is restricted, only being allowed access to 100 poems or songs or paintings made me feel there isn't enough air in the room.

Reading this book made me think I really wanted to read more, experience more, see what I was missing out on. Because I'd never read this Dylan Thomas poem before. And I love it. I love the repetition and the emotion of it. I love how rebellious it feels and fits perfectly into this story of a girl trying to rebel against the suffocating society she lives in.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas -

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on that sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Regeneration by Pat Barker - Reading Regeneration by Pat Barker, the first in a trilogy of books about World War I, and I was inspired. Not only did I want to read the poetry of Wilfred Owen and other WWI poets, I wanted to read more generally about WWI, I wanted to read about psychology and how it's changed over time. I wanted to find out more about the changing attitudes towards homosexuality, I wanted to know about working women during WWI. I just wanted more.

I've never read a book before that has been as inspiring and interesting as Regeneration by Pat Barker. This time period had never appealed to me before, I'd never considered reading war poetry and then this book, this story, came along and whacked me upside the head. And I immediately went out and I read war poetry. And I found myself moved to tears. Especially when reading the following poem.

Anthem For Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen -

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds.

Do you have a favourite poet or poem? How do you feel about poetry?


  1. Fantastic post, Michele. Have you read any Mary Oliver? The Journey and Wild Geese are two of my favourites.

    (Regeneration had the same effect on me. I went on to read biographies of the poets and of William Rivers, a play about Sassoon and Rivers and then I wrote my dissertation on 'intertextuality in the Regeneration trilogy'.)

    1. No, I've not even *heard* of Mary Oliver :) I shall look her up, thanks for the recommendation :)

      I love the sound of your dissertation, it sounds fascinating!

  2. While I'm not mad about poetry, I do love 'The Daffodils' by William Wordsworth and 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost. I also liked the poetry in Matched, but I didn't really understand it like Cassia did though, it didn't really move me, but I still liked it!

    1. Oh I do love other poems by Robert Frost .. The Road Not Taken and the one about a Snowy Evening? I've only read Wordsworth as part of school classes though.

  3. I could so relate with you. When I was a high school student, poetry was forced on us by requiring us to memorize and analyze line by line many poems. Ironically, I never got around to appreciating poems. Only recently did I start going back to reading poetry. I would like to recommend to you "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. I made a post on it a few weeks ago:

    1. Leaves of Grass sounds like it'd be amazing and I did try to read it after it appeared in movies/books that I've read, but I've never quite gotten into it..

  4. Robert Frost's Nothing Gold Can Stay is also one of my favorites, because of The Outsiders!

    I dabbled in writting poetry, but have not written anything since my dad died.. He was a major influence on me and poetry. I would got to poetry jams with him every time I would visit him.

    1. That sounds really wonderful, that you shared that with your dad. I used to write a bit of poetry as well, but many years ago and I cringe to think of them now :)

  5. I adore William Blake. His poem 'London' has the most stunning imagery - I love it.

    1. Huh. I think I've read that actually... Probably for another blog post I was thinking of writing once :) I shall have to read it again now.


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