Friday, 30 July 2010

Poetry Please

My father emailed me with a link to 'Pied Beauty' the other day. Poetry has always been one of our shared passions - he introduced me to Yeats, and I think 'He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven' was read at his wedding to Mum - and we love Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose high Anglo-Catholic spirituality appeals to us both.

I sat at my computer looking at it on the screen. It was the first time I had seen a poem I know so well not on a page, and I wonder if this is how everyone will experience poetry in years to come. There's been a lot in the news recently about ebooks, ipads, kindles etc - they worry me but I like the idea that instead of electronic media replacing books they will just be different, running in parallel to a smaller, more efficient print industry but not really competing with it, just as radio, television, film and theatre coexist and develop in their own connected and complementary worlds.

I read it aloud. It's a poem I know well and love, but hadn't seen for a while, and reading it the words and rhythms were as comfortable and easy as old slippers but absence had bestowed on them a new freshness. It felt spring-cleaned, new-minted. Susie Boyt was writing in the FT the other weekend about how her relationship with Larkin had developed over the years from suspicion to understanding to almost nostalgia, and it's true that with each reading a poem can change, especially if the readings are years apart. But perhaps our attitudes to the truest favourites, like the truest friends, never really change.

Hopkins has shaped my understanding of the numinous as much as any writer, although it's not a coincidence that I first read him at the same time as I read those other pillars of my canon (Salinger, Eliot, Dante) and it does beg the question - do the things one reads in one's late teens/early twenties colour everything else one ever reads? It's definately been true for me. Nothing until my wedding rehearsal managed to compete on a spiritual level with a reading from Watership Down at a Unitarian church on Cape Cod at Easter c.1987.

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