When I am asked I always say I don’t really like poetry, but that’s a bit like someone saying vegetables when what they really mean is I don’t like cabbage and swede. I do like some poetry; Emily Dickinson is a favourite, whilst I wouldn’t say her poems are positive they always carry emotion and meaning. Some of the first poems I remember are ones we read at school. When I was very young (primary age 6-9) I remember reading poems by Allan Ahlberg from his collection Please Mrs Butler. The title poem began:
Please Mrs Butler
This boy Derek Drew
Keeps copying my work, Miss.
What shall I do?
The collection was full of wonderful funny poems designed to get children into reading poetry. Then there seems to be a gap, whether in my memory or my education I’m not sure, and I don’t really remember reading poetry again until High School. When I was introduced to the delights (possibly a poor choice of words given the subject matter) of poems by Roger McGough and Seamus Heaney. I also remember reading a poem called Spain 1809 although I have no idea who wrote it. The Seamus Heaney poem was about a fishing boat finding the body of a baby when hauling in their catch and how it got there, speaking in terms of Limbo (I think that may have been the title) and the child being an unplanned pregnancy of a young girl. It was very emotive and even now I remember odd lines from it, “She waded in under the sign The sign of the cross.”
My favourite poems from that time though are two very different poems both by Roger McGough. The first is called The Lesson, a very well written satire on corporal punishment (Mr McGough was at school in the 1940s and 1950s when children were still subject to punishment from teachers) that entertains and is still relevant now, perhaps even more so. The second one is The Identification written by McGough in the 1970′s after he watched a news report of a bombing where they spoke to the parent of a young man who had been killed; it is written as one half of a conversation between the father and a policeman/coroner while identifying the body of his son. It is heartfelt, engaging and you can imagine the things he says being what would be running through your head in that situation. I remember doing an assignment where we were asked to write the other half of the conversation.
I don’t know why certain poems have stayed with me while others have been forgotten; I couldn’t name one of the poems I read by Yeats or Wordsworth….in fact I’m quite impressed I can remember the names of the poets.
What poems do you remember from your past? Why do you think they stayed with you when others have been forgotten?