100 years ago today, Dylan Thomas was born.
So with kind permission of Barbara Scott Emmett, an extraordinary wordsmith herself and author of Delirium, The Rimbaud Delusion, I share my guest blog for her on Poetry: The One That Got Away, as my mark of respect.
I woke up this morning with a regret.
Nothing unusual there. Yet this time, said regret was unconnected to a bottle of tequila, a roguish pair of eyebrows or another spectacular failure in a foreign language.
I realise I told a lie.
Yesterday, someone asked me if I read poetry. “Poetry? Not really my thing,” I said. “Much rather read a book.”
That is an untruth.
I met Poetry in primary school. We got on well. Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience lured me in and RS Thomas finished the job. Kiss-chase and rounders were neglected for lines such as these:
Men of the hills, wantoners, men of Wales
With your sheep and your pigs and your ponies, your sweaty females
How I have hated you …
Secondary school led me to another Thomas. (Listen to this now and if you are not smitten in 90 seconds then you can stuff your Christmas card.)
Here are words, looking for trouble.
Here are words in a strange, ancient rhythm I already know.
Here are words tumbling, effervescing, colliding, exploding with energy and lyrical power.
Poetry made me laugh and cry. Poetry understood me. I swore eternal allegiance.
Biology was one of my favourite subjects in Sixth Form. Kidneys are intriguing. But arts and sciences don’t mix so I did French Literature instead. Poetry and I went InterRailing and met Paul Verlaine. Green and the earthy passion contained in those words connected with a song I’d heard – Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man. Love as raw exposure.
(I was only sixteen at the time and my poems were devoted to some public school twit I met on a sponsored walk. Still, his kidneys are mine now.)
University’s Professor Turner turned me on to Wordsworth and the worth of words. His lecture on Nutting is still etched on my memory and caused one of my housemates to fall in love with his forearms. I kept reading French poets, not least to be pretentious, and bumped into Baudelaire. An encounter I’ll never regret.
As often happens with childhood friends, Poetry and I drifted apart. I got in with a bad crowd (Crime), dropped out for a while (Literary Fiction) and messed about with one night stands (Short Stories). I knew where to find Poetry but wondered if we had anything in common anymore? In weak moments, I looked it up. Re-reading Robert Graves after The White Goddess: An Encounter, I recalled how poems of war carried a mightier punch than any footage or statistics. Raw words connected. Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds – a different kind of war – left me wretched and awed.
One compilation CD in my car includes Nick Cave, PM Dawn, Suzanne Vega, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen (hello again) Alanis Morrisette and Joni Mitchell. I keep getting it mixed up with the others, so needed an identifying title. Why did I collect these singers/songwriters on one album?
Because they use words in a way that shocks me, gives me shivers, sends me pictures, tells me stories and makes me think. Words doing things I didn’t know they could. Like Poetry used to do.
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