It's National Poetry Day today.
I like poems, and I don't spend anywhere near enough time reading them. I was thinking of Robert Frost only the other day when a friend shared an article about how "The Road Not Taken" was the most misread poem in America. Personally, I've always read it as saying that you should never waste time regretting the path your life didn't take, but perhaps that's my innate stoicism rather than anything intended by Frost. I also love "Stopping By Woods...", but doesn't everyone? "and miles to go before I sleep" is one of the few phrases that I would have tattooed onto me. It's a beautiful poem.
But Frost was an American poet, and we're not going to discuss an American poet on National Poetry Day. Instead I'm going to share with you one of my earliest poetry memories.
Close your eyes and imagine you are at school in about 1984. You're in an English class, which takes place sat around a large table in the school library. Your teacher is Mr. Hare, a man who has thick horn-rimmed spectacles, a beard a different colour to the rest of his hair and a hearing aid. Mr Hare is something of a harsh task master with a gruff exterior, but he does seem to like poetry (and he did me a huge favour later on when, in 1987, he correctly identified the poem that I was likely to be set in my English scholarship exam.... "The Soldier", by Rupert Brooke).
In his wisdom, Mr. Hare sets a class of 11 year-olds the following poem to commit to memory:
Cynddylan on a Tractor by RS Thomas.
Ah, you should see Cynddylan on a tractor.
Gone the old look that yoked him to the soil,
He's a new man now, part of the machine,
His nerves of metal and his blood oil.
The clutch curses, but the gears obey
His least bidding, and lo, he's away
Out of the farmyard, scattering hens.
Riding to work now as a great man should,
He is the knight at arms breaking the fields'
Mirror of silence, emptying the wood
Of foxes and squirrels and bright jays.
The sun comes over the tall trees
Kindling all the hedges, but not for him
Who runs his engine on a different fuel.
And all the birds are singing, bills wide in vain,
As Cynddylan passes proudly up the lane.
What a name to conjure with! We didn't just learn the words, we learned a musical intonation as we recited it from memory. Looking at it now, nearly thirty years later, it's a pretty good poem, isn't it?
I also once stood up in front of the whole school and recited Dennis Lee's comic poem about a very naughty boy called "Oilcan Harry".
My favourite poem? At the moment I'm a huge fan of "I Wanna Be Yours" by John Cooper Clarke.
I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford Cortina
I will never rust
If you like your coffee hot
let me be your coffee pot
You call the shots
I wanna be yours....
Love the Arctic Monkeys version too....
Anyway. Poetry. Isn't it? Hmmm?