Friday 21 October 2016

I try to no avail, I cannot cry, I fail (Anon)

Published 25/04/2016 | 02:30

Poet Rita Ann Higgins near her home in An Spideal, Co, Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes
Poet Rita Ann Higgins near her home in An Spideal, Co, Galway. Photo: Andrew Downes

Try as I may I have never quite got poetry. And I have always perceived this as a lack, a weakness, a gap in my intellectual or emotional life that raises the spectre that I might be a very shallow person.

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I suspect it was my schooling that killed my appreciation of poetry. I could rattle off Tintern Abbey with the best of them and do well in the exams, but I hadn't connected with it at all. I remember reading some Yeats and thinking there was a beauty about it, and then I had the misfortune to hear a recording of him reading, or more declaiming, Inishfree, and that put me off for years. He was horrendous.

There were poems that could make me laugh. It could have been a poem by The Scaffold or the like. But I just thought of that as 'cleverality' rather than poetry. There was some progress when I heard Kathleen Watkins, who is the best performer of a poem that we have, recite Rita Ann Higgins. When I heard her do The Deserter I thought I was finally getting somewhere. The poet is furious with her recently deceased husband who has upped and died without having the decency to wear the shirts she had just washed and ironed for him. It is clever, funny and sad, but because of my destructive schooling I found it hard to think of it as 'real' poetry. I know this is my problem and that Rita Ann Higgins is a very fine poet indeed, and being funny should not be a minus.

It seems to have got into me that a poem had to be a bit pompous. Every now and again, our current First Citizen would publish something meaningful and I was inevitably at a loss. I could not make head nor tail of what he was on about.

I made some progress when I came across Forgetfulness by Billy Collins where he cleverly, and humorously, brings us through those things on the tip of our tongue that drive us mad because once we recalled them effortlessly.

Then I read a review of a book called Poems that Make Grown Men Cry. If anything could save me this book would. One talented person after another told of how a particular poem affected them deeply. I tried. I really did try. Not a sniffle.

I did come across Love after Love by Derek Walcott, which talks about getting past the need to have the esteem of others and to love oneself… "the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you ignored for another…." It was insightful. I was touched, copied it, and sent it to a friend who was having a tough time. She was thrilled and now thinks I am an intelligent, caring, thoughtful and sensitive person.

That won't last but eventually I'll get poetry.

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