I have a mixed feeling about poetry. I do feel like writers seize on it as if it's an easy artform and then produce some awful bilge. Something the Vogons would be proud of. Something that just puts words on lines, as if that's enough. It's freeflow you see. It doesn't have to rhyme. And no, it doesn't, but it should at least be something. Just putting random words on lines doesn't make it a poem. Not for me.
When I studied A level English we had a tutor who shall forever be remembered as 'callmemike'. He had just graduated from teacher school or whatever it is you do to become a teacher and was dead enthusiastic and had all these ideas and shit. We hated him. Like, on sight. Our class of 16 year old horror people made him cry once, storm out of the classroom a few times and we most definitely didn't call him Mike.
He introduced me to some of the worst poetry I have ever had the misfortune to read. We had been told we would be studying Andrew Marvell et al, which naturally appealed to me because he was very dead and I thought, at the time, that the only good shit was written by dead people. I was 16. Don't judge me.
It was a woman called Grace Nichols. And it was heinous. It was called The Fat Black Women's poetry. One went: Fat is... as fat does... as fat is... for bloody ages.
I was looking for beauty and lyricism, for words to make me feel and think. I was not looking to read some woman's constant moaning about being fat and black. Yeah, I wasn't ready for anything with actual social commentary in it you see. I couldn't relate to a marginalised woman standing up for herself in a society which told her she didn't fit in any way. I was 16. I wanted to read about Shelley and Byron and all the romantic poets who shagged each other and took opium a lot.
I think he may have had some idea that he would revolutionise our staid, middle class, very white lies by hitting us with poetry that said something important about politics and perception. He was so very wrong. Oh so wrong. I did the bare minimum and was vocal, irritating and very, very annoying to teach.
I still have the same itchiness around social commentary poetry. I don't like it. I'm not comfortable with it. And I definitely have issues with much amateur poetry I read. But then I remember people like Christina Rossetti. And I recite this poem to myself. It was read at my dad's funeral. Along with Auden's Stop All the Clocks because we were just that original. It makes me feel something intense and beautiful and very comforting. A dead person speaks from beyond the grave and it helps. It's a grief poem. It just is. And it helped me when I needed it.
Spare with words but rich with meaning. Not shirking a dirty topic but telling it how it is. It encapsulates the weirdness of grief and the very very comforting thought that, no matter how much you suffer, the person you grieve for isn't suffering anymore. And it's OK to stop sometimes.
So, for National Poetry Day (sort of) here's my favourite poem. I'm sort of tempted to do an audio recording in the style of Prince Charles for shits and giggles but not enough people will read this to make it worthwhile. It's not about OK Cupid freaks, so will have definitely lost at least 50% of readership.
REMEMBER by CHRISTINA ROSSETTI
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And aftewards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far that you should forget and smile,
Than that you should remember and be sad.