Tuesday, 10 May 2016

On Poetry

The last week has been a bit of a blur for me. I've been stuck in this downward spiral of confusion and sadness and a total feeling of being utterly and completely lost.

I feel like my life is disappearing beneath my feet and I can't do anything to grasp it. I know I should be mindful and be in the present rather than thinking about the past and worrying about the future, but I just can't. Or maybe I don't want to. I don't know.

I mentioned something on twitter about being in a state of limbo and a lovely person shared a link to poem with me: Rose Cook's 'A Poem for Someone Who is Juggling Her Life'. It's a wonderful poem - simple, yet carrying such an important message - and it really spoke to me in that moment.

So I went home and I read the Mary Oliver book that has sat next to my bed for two months. I also painted my toenails red because that's an instant uplifter. I tried to watch a film, but couldn't. So I gave myself permission to do nothing, to sit with this poetry book, to think, to feel everything I'm feeling.

The next day I woke up with a restlessness I couldn't shake so I showered and was out of the house by 6.30am. I walked from my home, through Elephant and Castle, across Waterloo Bridge and up Kingsway to Holborn. I treated myself to breakfast and then went to work. That hour spent walking, in the morning chill with the sun warming me ever so slightly, felt ever so calming. I got to work and bought two new poetry collections.

Over the weekend one of the poetry books I'd ordered arrived - Clive James's Sentenced to Life. I made a coffee and crawled back into bed with it, sinking into the verse, the rhythm, the beauty of James's words.

I've had an on again off again relationship with poetry for my entire life. I adore poems, but sometimes my brain won't allow me the time they need and deserve. Now though, in this fast-paced social media world, I think reading a poem is the perfect way to stop, take a pause, and reassess.

There are poems that have meant so much to me throughout my life. I remember stumbling upon William Ernest Henley's Invictus one day and my heart instantly overflowed with all the emotions I'd held down for so long. I cried and cried and eventually I showed it to my sister who, for me, is the epitome of that poem. Years later she had two lines of the poem tattooed onto her thigh, for she truly is the master of her fate and the captain of her soul.

I thought I didn't 'get' poetry until I discovered William Blake. His poems are so deceptively simple, but in reality they hum with life and passion and spirituality. A few weeks ago I had to have an MRI and, on the cusp of panic, I recited Blake's poetry. Without him I wouldn't have made it through that twenty minutes intact.

Poetry says what I can't say myself. It pushes me to acknowledge and accept feelings that I'd often rather hide from. A poem can be a slap in the face, a gentle smile, a loving embrace; a poem can be home, it can be adventure, and it most certainly can be life.

I've since devoured that collection of Mary Oliver's poems that has sat by my bed for so long, but I won't be moving it. I'll leave it there, waiting patiently for the day when only poetry will do.


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