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World Poetry Day - Poems That Inspire

Last week I received a call from a local care home asking me if I would come in and read some poetry with their residents on World Poetry Day. Until that point, I wasn't even aware that it was coming up - poetry writing is not really my thing. I only ever tend to write poetry as an outlet for emotion, in which case people often never get to read what I've written, or I write humorous ones with silly rhymes. These I've done for people's weddings and birthdays and they're never meant to be great works of literature, they're just supposed to make people laugh. My youngest son challenges me every morning to do a version of 'Fee Fi Fo Fum' as I come up the stairs to get him ready for school and the rhymes are becoming increasingly outlandish as I run out of words that rhyme with Fum, Fo, Fi or Fee! Consequently, writing poetry is not something I've ever taken particularly seriously. If I'm honest, some of it still scares me a little bit because the analysis of them often seems so highbrow and technical and I don't often consciously think about technique when I'm writing prose, it just kind of happens naturally.

Nevertheless, I agreed to go into the home and started thinking about what I was going to do. I didn't really want to just go in and read - that was going to be terribly dull and I'd have to find a lot of poems to fill the time. I wanted to think a bit more widely about poetry, but was very conscious that it wasn't a workshop; it was just meant to be a fun thing to do with the residents. I started going through my poetry books, thinking about poems that had meant something to me over the years and I realised three things:

  1. I have very few poetry books compared to prose ones

  2. I appear to have got rid of many of the poetry books I used to own

  3. There's a lot of poetry I do like and it's ok just to enjoy them rather than feel I have to analyse each one.

I also realised that many of the poems I'd marked out as possible ones to read had something in common. It wasn't that they were on similar themes - the poems I like are as diverse as my prose reading habits - it was that most of them had inspired other forms of creativity. Some had inspired me, others had inspired artists and musicians.

The first poem I remember truly falling in love with was Walter de la Mare's The Listeners. We had to memorise it in Year 7 and then write a companion piece of prose to provide something of a backstory to the poem. It was also the first time I realised I had some talent for creative writing and I've kept the piece I wrote and as an adult, lengthened it into a full short story.

As a child, I loved reading my grandfather's collection of books when I visited my grandma and this was where I fell in love with Tennyson and his English Idylls. Morte d'Arthur and The Lady Of Shalott are still amongst my favourites and have both inspired scenes in longer works I've written. They also provided my introduction to the world of pre-Raphaelite art via Waterhouse's painting of the Lady amongst others of that school. My sister also loved this style and I have happy memories of discussing them with her.

As an adult, I discovered the work of Charles Causley and connected with his Cornish poems in a way that took me very much by surprise. My resulting short story 'Eagle One Eagle Two' took inspiration from his poem of the same name and his Miller's End. His work has also inspired an album 'Cyprus Well' by Jim Causley, which was actually recorded in Charles Causley's house.

My youngest son has also made me take a closer look at the work of William Wordsworth and while I was researching for my care home visit, I found out that the daffodil garden that sits alongside the church where he is buried, is more than just a restful memorial to a dear son of the Lakes, it also serves as a fundraiser for a number of local projects/charities. The money it raises goes - in various ways - to preserving the area that Wordsworth loved so much in the 21st century. Something else which poetry has inspired.

I keep telling myself that I need to include more poetry in my reading and I'm now starting to take active steps towards that. Some are baby ones - I've bought and been re-reading Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairy poems recently. Some are slightly bigger ones - I've re-purchased The Nation's Favourite Poems with a view to reading it next month and next month's Book Group pick (which was my suggestion) is Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters. A select handful are much larger - my eldest son bought me The Complete Keats for my birthday last year and along with the complete Wordsworth and Tennyson, it's gone on my reading list for a future time.

So my conclusion today is that having clearly loved poetry when I was younger, I fell out of the habit of reading it and somewhere along the way decided that it was too highbrow for me. However, like most ideas we convince ourselves of, this is utter nonsense - I'd just been trying to read too much poetry I didn't like. Whilst I do like modern poets like Charles Causley and Brian Bilston, my poetry heart really lies with the classics - Shelley, Tennyson, Noyes, Wordsworth et al and therefore, it is to them I'll return to remind myself that poetry is neither highbrow nor scary. Put simply; it is, in all its forms, just beautiful.

I'd like to thank the staff at Silversprings for inviting me in again (and for the photos below) and the residents for being such a wonderful audience and joining in with the discussions about the poems. Particular thanks must also go to Frances, who shared a beautiful poem that she'd written herself.

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