I read a lot of poetry but seldom write about it here. Cam’s poetry meme offers me a welcome opportunity to begin to rectify that situation. Here are my responses to her prompts.
1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was:
The earliest encounter with poetry that I can recall was having my mom read to me from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. I still have the puffin paperback edition of the book from which she read to me and if pressed I can still recite the odd verse from it. The one that I remember most vividly is “The Lamplighter” and it was a great treat earlier this year to visit RLS’s childhood home at 17 Heriot Row in Edinburgh and see “the lamp before the door” that is said to have inspired the poem.
2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and…
I was never forced to memorize a poem in school. However, I did choose to do so for a public speaking competition when I was in the second grade. I have no idea what prompted me to do this. I was painfully shy to the extent that I would forgo candy rather than face the terror of interacting with a store clerk. Yet somehow I screwed up my courage to take to the stage in the school auditorium and recite a poem. The poem I recited was “Father” by Edgar Albert Guest. My grandpa, despite having had to quit school and go to work at the age of twelve, could recite many poems from memory. “Father” was one of his favourites and that’s why I chose it. I won an honourable mention in the competition and no doubt I wrote my grandpa immediately afterward to tell him so. The poem still makes me chuckle.
3. I read/don't read poetry because…
I read poetry because it gives me enormous pleasure and because it challenges me—sometimes one or the other, but if it’s a very good poem it will do both at once. I’m particularly likely to read poetry when I’m writing fiction. Reading fiction while I’m writing it disrupts or distracts me, whereas reading poetry while writing fiction inspires me and sharpens my focus somehow.
4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is:
Not surprisingly, my favourites shift over time. If you’d asked me what my favourite poem was when I was in high school, without hesitation I would have said William Butler Yeats’ "Aedh Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven”. In my twenties, I might have said Margaret Atwood’s “You Fit into Me” or e.e. cummings’ “in Just-”. A more recent favourite is Delmore Schwartz’s extraordinary “The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me”.
5. I write/don't write poetry, but…
I used to write poetry but, alas, my poems weren’t very good. I didn’t find my form until I began writing fiction. But I certainly don’t consider the time I spent trying to write poetry to have been wasted. My attempts made me a better reader of poetry and a better writer of fiction.
6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature…
My reading of poetry is more erratic than is my reading of fiction. I’m more likely to dip in and out of a poetry book, to stretch my reading of it out over a very long period of time, or perhaps never to finish it at all. On the upside (for the poets out there), this means that while I often borrow the fiction that I read from the library, I almost always opt to buy poetry books because I know I'll get a lot of reading out of them.
7. I find poetry… indispensable.
8. The last time I heard poetry…
I can’t remember precisely when the last time I heard poetry was. This is not because it’s a rare occurrence but because it’s a frequent one. Toronto is awash in poetry reading series and consequently opportunities to hear excellent poets read from their work abound. Particularly memorable readings from the past year include Lisa Robertson’s reading from her excellent collection The Men at the Test Reading Series, and Jen Currin's reading from her debut collection The Sleep of Four Cities at the last dig launch. I highly recommend both of their books.
9. I think poetry is like… nothing else. At its best it can’t be paraphrased. It conveys something that can’t be conveyed in any other form. Poetry is poetry.
This meme has been floating around the litblogosphere for a while now so I’m not sure who is left to be tagged. I’d like to hear from anyone who hasn’t yet weighed in with responses to Cam’s excellent questions. I’d be particularly interested to hear from some of my poet friends if they fancy participating. Jen? Stuart? Rob?