Thursday, 8 October 2009

National Poetry Day 2009

Happy National Poetry Day everyone! Many of you will no doubt be marking the day by reading new poetry, dipping into your old favourites or maybe even attending a poetry event. It was announced today that the nation's favourite poet is T.S Eliot - a pretty good choice we're sure most would agree. We thought we'd take a little office poll to see which poems the SBT staff love to read...

La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France by Blaise Cendrars, 1913

At that time I was in my adolescence
I was barely sixteen years old and had already forgotten my childhood
I was sixteen thousand leagues from my birth
I was in Moscow, in the city of the thousand and three belltowers
and the seven stations
And the seven stations and the thousand and three belltowers
did not suffice me
For my adolescence was then so ardent and wild
That my heart blazed in turn like the temple of Ephesus or the
Red Square in Moscow
As the sun sets.

This is one of my favourite poems because it is one of the first modern poems, a hymn to movement, travel, and adventure. Cendrars was a huge influence on Apollinaire, and this led to the birth of modern poetry. In addition, Cendrars worked with the artist Sonia Delaunay to create one of the greatest artists books ever made with this poem. Delaunay illustrated the poem with her abstract designs; Intended as an edition of 150, only 60 copies were printed, of which about 30 are thought to survive (The Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh has one). The book, a series of 4 sheets glued together in an accordion style binding, measures 199 cm tall when unfolded; the height of all 150 end to end would have equaled the height of the Eiffel Tower, a potent symbol of modernity at the time, and referenced in both the poem and the print.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot, 1915

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

I love the imagery used and the flow of the poem. Although I know it just about off by heart, I’m never quite sure I’ve understood the poem - perhaps one of the reasons I never tire of reading it.


To A Mouse. On turning up her next with the plough by Robert Burns, 1785.

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

This was the first poem I learnt and had to recite in front of my family and school assembly. I liked the way he had written a poem for the mouse and felt sorry for it - you can tell I’m an animal lover!


Entirely by Louis MacNeice

If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
and falling twigs of song,
And when we try to eavesdrop on the great
Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.

This poem was given to me by a friend years ago and has since been abroad with me – to different jobs and homes. I always find a place to pin it up. I read it from time to time to remind myself to stop being hard on myself for not being quite ‘there’ yet.


A Voodoo for Miss Maverick by Sandy Thomas Ross

I dinna like Miss Maverick –
This cushion’s for her heid.
I’m jumpin aa my wecht on’t,
An noo Miss Maverick’s deid!
Ye’re deid, ye’re deid, Miss Maverick,
An never mair ye’ll say
I dance like a hird o’ Ayrshire
Ky on a mercat day! I’ll pit ye ablaw the sofa –
Ye’re deid an yirdit baith,
An never mair ye’ll miscaa me –
Ye’ve drawn yer hinmaist braith!

My favourite poem is Voodoo for Miss Maverick by Sandy Thomas Ross, a much recited poem in primary schools up and down Scotland. I remember my brother learning it when he was a wee boy and having my whole family in stitches as he acted out jumping on the hated “Miss Maverick’s head” in the middle of the poem. Wonderful.


Things by Fleur Adcock

There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,committed or endured or suspected; there are worse thingsthan not being able to sleep for thinking of them.It is 5am. All the worse things come stalking inand stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

I found it really hard to choose as there are so many poems I love. I picked this in the end as I’m not sleeping very well and it sums up the state of insomnia very well.


Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

This was Frost's favourite of his own poems. I love it for of its simplicity - and for the way it depicts life as a journey, for we all have 'miles to go before we sleep'.


Sneezles by A.A. Milne

Christopher Robin
Had wheezles
And sneezles,
They bundled him
His bed.
They gave him what goes
With a cold in the nose,
And some more for a cold
In the head.

I love all of the poems in A.A. Milne's Now We Are Six. It's also one of my Dad's favourite books which I think is one of the main reasons I love it - it's a shared passion. A.A. Milne captures the innocence of childhood beautifully and I think the humour delights adults and children alike.

Hopefully that lengthy list will inspire to read some poems today. Do let us know your favourite!


philippa.cochrane said...

Sorry, I was late in getting my choice to Heather - so I am adding it here as a comment.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers
by Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

I love Emily Dickinson's poetry. She wrote so much and covered so many subjects that it is always hard to choose, and the best thing is to dip in and read a few. However, having to pick, I would choose this one - unusally upbeat for Emily Dickinson and always a timely reminder when life is getting you down!

Paul Gallagher said...

I thought that I didn't have a favourite poet, but Julia's choice has reminded me that really there's no contest - TS Eliot is the one for me - seems I'm not alone in this preference, either.

Anyway, much as I love 'Prufrock' and 'The Waste Land', it's these opening lines from 'Burnt Norton' that I'd pick as my favourite. I've always loved thinking about time, and what it is, and how it works - and here Eliot perfectly expresses these thoughts and questions:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know...

ailiemacdonald said...

Scunner by Hugh MacDiarmid

Your body derns
In its graces again
As the dreich grun' does
In the gowden grain,
And oot o' the daith
O'pride you rise
Wi' beauty yet
For a hauf-disguise.

The skinklan stars
Are bust distant dirt
Tho' fer owre near
You are still - whiles - girt
Wi' the bonnie licht
You bood ha'e tint
- And I lo'e Love
Wi' a scunner in't.

This is one of my favourite of MacDiarmid's poems - where his penchant for conflict and paradox is neatly contained within the music of the language.

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