Poetry Duels

And we have been having poetry duels.

They are long winded Celtic ceilidh affairs, serendipitous sallies down alleys we have never tried before, and really I must recommend them even if you have never read poetry.

It all started when the Celt paid a modest amount to ask the advice of a Great Poet.

The Important One summonsed my Irish Beloved to St Albans, to that hallowed centre of all poets, Cafe Nero, an emporium which – by all accounts – makes excellent coffee, though I myself don’t drink it and so am not really qualified to comment.

We actually went to St Albans twice: the Poet had a bad sprain to his ankle and was unable to arrive the first time, and the Celt spent an hour solemnly critiquing his own work until I arrived back in a bright red dress I had found for a very reasonable sum in a charity shop.

Our second visit was outrageously fruitful for the Celt, though I found the charity shops barer than before. The Great Poet told him a great many sage things, amongst which this: read lots of poems. ManyManyMany poems. Vast word-tracts, written by great and humble alike, read them all. Hear their music, their meter, their brevity and distilled succinctness.

I was matter of fact. The Celt just wanted to read a few poets but I said: buy an anthology from a charity shop. Buy more than one, I added. That way you can pick-and mix, dip-in and dip-out, try sample sizes and put them back on the shelf if you don’t like them.

And thus our two loves were found to be in conjunction: poetry, and charity shops.

A few days later I found some really cracking anthologies: Britain’s favourite poetry, and Poetry Please, and a volume of Pope for good measure.

During the evening we take it in turns: sometimes to read old favourites, others to be surprised by the new.Sometimes they are pompous, sometimes awed, always grateful to be read out loud because they should be heard like music, lilting, tilting things. A joust, we had, Tennyson versus Coleridge, Yeats up against Blake, Thomas versus Flecker and Gray.

Words have quite shaped us recently.

And today I returned to work after a beautiful holiday, and tonight I must attend a meeting I dreaded and hated to attend, and all those beautiful readings receded and my heart shrank.

And so I went to the charity shops at lunchtime. And what should be sitting on the shelf but The Rattle Bag – an anthology collected by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.

And I knew, instantly what to do. I would have the poetry book open close to me, and when things got almost unbearable and I was so angry I began to see molten red, I would look down and read.

A tactic I would also highly recommend.-For when the going got tough I read a ballad by Gwendoline Brooke’s and another by Charles Causley. And I found myself gazing at Dylan Thomas and reading his sense, as though he were just outside the window of my meeting waiting to talk.

I am buoyed up by words this evening, a pilgrim visiting the sanctuary of poetry in the midst of trials and tribulations.

And I end – I must stress I have never ended this way before – with Sir Walter Raleigh:

“Give me my scallop-shell of quiet

My staff of faith to walk upon,

My scrip of joy, immortal diet

My bottle of salvation,

My gown of glory, hope’s true gage

And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.”


23 thoughts on “Poetry Duels

  1. Don’t think the poetry would work for me. When ire rose so would I, to declaim things like, ‘The very deeps did rot– Oh Christ! That ever this should be.’ (pointing) ‘Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs, Upon the slimy sea.’

      1. No, that would be far too refined for them! They have these terrible curses that they yell across the water at one another like, ‘Starboard!’ or ‘Water!’ or ‘Mast abeam!’

  2. I did not think poetry was new to you – newish to share this way maybe – I was hearing great happiness in a lovely post. thanks. Thought of this Muriel Spark, thinking of you reading under the table…

    Anger in the Works

    Anger filled her body and mind, it
    permeated her insides, her throat
    and heart throbbed with anger. (‘Beware
    the ire of the calm.’) There was
    anger in her teeth, nails and hair.
    It drummed in her ears.
    ‘How lovely to see you,’ she said,
    ‘Do sit down.’

    1. Perfectly summed up, Elspeth πŸ˜€ Right up until I get lost in a couple of lines of Dylan Thomas. New to poetry I am not, but new to reading often and with the same acquisitory feeling as when wandering hrough one of my beloved charity shops. One never, ever knows what one might find rummaging in poetry books.

  3. What a peaceful resolve to an inner storm! I think you’ve given me a very good direction. I have so many books (and dwindling space) that I use the library more and more, but I frequently borrow books of poetry to at least be sure they “speak to me” before I purchase them. My husband has begged me to stay out of charity shops! πŸ™‚ I wish I could sit in and hear your poetry duels.

  4. Oh, still my heart – I shall be tempted, no, now I am tempted to hit my favorite charity shop where I know there are many books and among them books of poetry. Of course, I could just delve into what I already have. πŸ™‚ How fun and rewarding to read poetry often and aloud.
    I usually do read poetry out loud and encourage those who don’t like poetry to do so, but, I do not read it on a regular basis. Hmmm – a new goal.

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