12th Sep 2012
Poets’ Society: The Prelude
Poetry. Bane of your high school English classes, am I right? Your typical poetry nut can err of the pompous side and is known for pretentious observations about clouds, correct? Well, no.
I had a rocky relationship with poetry at first; an A Level where we had to learn the entirety of the Lyrical Ballads off by heart for an exam that left me with panic attacks for three months.
I quit my university Renaissance module because I couldn’t handle one more hour discussing white, male epic poetry about their rich mate’s house.
I first realised poetry could be alright when studying The Bell Jar. Christmas was approaching; my wonderful teacher had played us some sound bites of Sylvia Plath reading her poetry live (I highly recommend searching for these clips on YouTube) and I wanted to read the collection for myself. Christmas morn arrived and in my pile was Ariel, the poetry collection that changed my life.
It was so refreshing to read poetry that wasn’t about wealth or love or nature. There are no sonnets in this collection – Plath is far more likely to compare thee to a human skin lamp than any summer’s day. It’s dark, it’s passionate, and, oh God, as a seventeen-year-old literature freak I couldn’t have asked for more.
If you really want to discover the world of post-1900 poetry, get your mitts on a Norton Anthology of English Literature, a comprehensive bible that was both the saviour and bane of my university life. Browsing one afternoon before class I came across T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and yet again, my life was changed.
It was unstructured to the point where it became its own structure; it broke all the poetic conventions I had ever known. However, three years later I had to write an essay on The Waste Land and let’s just say I haven’t quite made up with Eliot yet.
Let me introduce this new monthly column. It’s time to rectify the image poetry currently has. Our aim is to introduce you to new poetry by up-and-coming poets, and to remind you of some of the greatest collections of the past 100 or so years.
You can expect different writers every month, talking about the poets that affected them the most, and articles from poets themselves about their writing process and why they chose to write poetry. It’s gonna be great.
This column is also open to you. Is there a poet you can’t get enough of and want everyone else to read? Do you write or perform poetry and want to share your experiences? Send in your suggestions and you could be writing for this column.
Let’s start with a few contemporary suggestions. Carol Ann Duffy is our nations poet laureate and with good reason. She writes poetry that can either be taken at face value on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, or which can be discussed at extreme length over cocktails with like-minded friends.
The World’s Wife is an extraordinary collection with references to Duffy’s life as well as a brilliantly sharp take on the position of women in modern society. It’s the perfect combination of dark, hilarious, moving and approachable which makes for the ultimate in modern poetry.
Woman’s lives are as complex and difficult as always, and poetry is the perfect narrative for these confusing times. Phobia by Jo Brandon is a collection that delves into many unfortunate circumstances that women face today.
Split into two sections – Fear and Caution – Brandon explores the life of women with an intensely personal perspective with a delicate combination of hardness and sensitivity that truly brings to light the daily struggles we all experience.
So there’s two recommendations to start you off. But now I want to know: what’s your favourite poetry collection? Who do you recommend I investigate? And have you got an article idea which would work well for this column? Get in touch to tell me.