60 years in 60 poems

I’m a little behind the times on this, but it’s worth a mention anyway.

In a project commissioned by Faber & Faber, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy compiled a collection of poems for the Queen’s jubilee; sixty poets were each assigned a different year of the Queen’s reign to write about.  You can buy the book – Jubilee Lines – or you can read them here.

Or you can have them read to you here – a neat little page from The Space, a partnership between Arts Council England and techies at BBC.

I love hearing poetry read aloud, especially by the poet, which often brings nuances not apparent on the page.  Dylan Thomas springs to mind.  Almost always a poem is enriched by the voice of its creator.  Second best is often reading it yourself.  Listening to an actor read poetry is a little like having it translated – they should be chosen carefully to ensure that they enhance and enrich the voice of the poet.

The readers here are Samantha Bond and Dan Stevens, who have clear, pleasant voices more suited to classics rather than contemporary poetry; Lindsey Marshal reminded me of a primary teacher at story time, although this worked with some poems, particularly Gillian Clarke’s Running Away to the Sea (1955); but Alex Lanipekun has a voice that is deep and rich and brings the poetry to life.  Scroll down to 1962 and listen to him read Sixteen (1962) by Brian Patten.

I would have loved to hear Alex read Don Paterson’s awesome sonnet The Big Listener (1997), but as he didn’t I’m happy just to read it myself.  Here, you try it –

The Big Listener by Don Paterson

Midnight. Connaught Square. A headlight beam
finds Cherie just back from her speaking date.
She looks at you. Less animal of late.
You lose no sleep but wake within a dream.
Your favourite: that old divided dark;
the white square at your neck; your good ear bent
towards the long sighs of your penitent.
You rinse a thousand souls before the lark
and wake refreshed, if somewhat at a loss
as to why they seem so lost for words.
They are your dead, who still rose to the birds
the day we filled the booths and made the cross,
before you’d forced them howling to their knees
to suffer your attentions. Spare us. Please.

American poets for 4th July: Wallace Stevens

So, I’ve used American Poets as a prism through which to view my relationship with poetry.  This here is the future.  More exploration of the unknown, including pushing back from contemporary to modern.  See how it goes.

I was drawn to this one by the title – it intrigued me.  I read it once and was unsure, although I had a sense there was something there.  I reread it and kind of liked it.  By the time I’d written it out it had me.

Good Man, Woman Bad by Wallace Stevens

You say that spite avails her nothing, that

You rest intact in conscience and intact

In self, a man of longer time than days,

Of larger company than one.  Therefore,

Pure scientist, you look with nice aplomb

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American poets for 4th July: Sylvia Plath

OK, we’re going to have to agree to play nice and share here.  I mean she might have been born in the US, but she lived in the UK.  With Ted Hughes for goodness sake.  And she died here.

Anyway.  Enough about her, let’s talk about me.  Plath forms part of the reunification between me and poetry; the army who convinced me to give it another try.  I’d seen the odd poem here and there that I connected with, but reading a book of her selected poems was the first time I felt a connection with a poet.  I flickered through the book, my jaw dropping lower with each poem.  I’ve since discovered that my favourites are her poems about motherhood – Morning Song and You’re, which contains the best line ever in poetry.  But this one.  This one was the hooker:

Face Lift by Sylvia Plath

You bring me good news from the clinic,

Whipping off your silk scarf, exhibiting the tight white

Mummy-cloths, smiling: I’m all right.

When I was nine, a lime-green anesthetist

Fed me banana-gas through a frog mask. The nauseous vault

Boomed with bad dreams and the Jovian voices of surgeons.

Then mother swam up, holding a tin basin.

O I was sick.

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American poets for 4th July: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Right, let’s start at the beginning.  My beginning, with poetry in general and American poetry in particular.

When I was a brat, I collected poems.  Not like I loved poems and pored over them and learned them and precociously took on their wisdom.  No.  I collected poems like a trainspotter collects numbers.  It was all about the quantity and nothing about quality.  But…

… somehow Henry Wadsworth Longfellow cut through this and a couple of little excerpts from Hiawatha touched my nine-year-old soul.

I bought a beautifully illustrated copy of the poem when my son was nine and got a tingle when I read it to him.  He was so impressed he was asleep before the babe was out of his swaddling.  I hope you enjoy it more.  As an incentive, if you get to the end of this – my favourite few lines – you get my favourite Hiawatha joke, as a reward.

[from] Hiawatha’s Childhood by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

At the door on summer evenings,

Sat the little Hiawatha,

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