Category: poetry

‘The Hills’, James Kirkup

You can read the text of this poem here, and you can listen to John Ireland’s glorious setting of it here.

One of the poetry groups I facilitate recently had as its topic “mountains”, and (among other things) I took the text of this wonderful song. I was, for some reason, quietly pleased to discover that the person who included it on their blog (which is where you’ve just read it) had, like me, discovered it at choir practice. Perhaps what pleases me is that sense of community and connection, across time and miles.

Anyway, this poem doesn’t mention the joys of the high- or mid- altitude cheese sandwich, but I really prize its celebration of what we find in hills: a place of stillness, a sense of that which never changes. No matter what our intellectual understanding may be that these, too, shall pass, it’s hard to feel that when you are out in the hills. Kirkup’s poem has a very simple vocabulary and unfussy style. It’s not saying anything particularly complicated—but I reckon it will resonate with most if not all of us who go out into them there hills. ‘They are both god and temple’: places to be revered and treasured; places which offer nourishment and refreshment; and places where we can reconnect with our own ‘profounder rivers’.

 

‘pack up the moon and dismantle the sun’: some new books

It’s new-book-joy time again, so kettle on, phone off, biscuits out…

A couple of new poetry books have gone into the WTAK collection. The Art of Losingedited by Kevin Young, and In Memoriam: Poems of Bereavement, introduced by Carol Ann Duffy, are both now nestled on the anthologies shelf. The second was a Christmas present (thanks, Naomi!); the first has been my companion for a while.

You can read more about them on the bookshelf pages (hover over the titles). Here, I’ll content myself with saying that, while the first is a long, comprehensive book and the second a mere slip of a slim volume, both are very approachable. And both are wonderful things to offer someone who might be going through loss—or to have on hand if you yourself are in need of comfort and companionship during a grief. Even if neither of those applies, though, these are simply great collections of poems, doing what all good poetry does: reminding us of what it is to be human, reminding us that, almost certainly, whatever we are experiencing, we are not alone in it.

 

‘In Memoriam: Poems of Bereavement’, edited by Carol Ann Duffy

In her introduction, Duffy reveals the intention behind this collection: ‘we hope that these poems… will hold your hand’. The image, taken from one of the poems included in the book, is simple, clear, effective: it’s about comfort and companionship, recognition and acknowledgement. And I’d say the book does what Duffy puts on the tin.

There’s a mixture of poems you’re likely to have encountered already and poems which are probably new; similarly, there are a lot of familiar voices—Tennyson, Rosetti, Thomas, St. Vincent Millay, Thomas, and Duffy herself—as well as new ones, and anonymous/traditional texts too. Some are suitable for reading at a funeral or memorial; some feel more intimate. I particularly like the fact that such a range of moods is represented in this volume: shocked, angry, bewildered, wry, consoled, consoling, defiant, felled by loss… even in such a small book, something to find you in most moods.

And if you’re new to the poetry of loss, this would be a great place to start.

 

thing 10: ‘time was away and somewhere else’: blue petering

I can still see it now: the hand-made razor-cleaning-brush holder, approx. three inches by half an inch, knitted in uptightly-tense garter stitch in DK wool in variegated tones of blue by my 7-year-old self.

The HMRCBH lived in Dad’s razor box for a long time and I remember my delight in how delighted he was to receive it (or at least, how delighted I felt he was, which was what mattered). But though the giving and receiving of hand-made items remains a very special thing—which I still enjoy, and which Kirstie et al increasingly encourage us to do these days—that’s not actually (read more…)

‘Meeting Point’, Louis MacNeice

You can read this poem here.

Like Betjeman’s ‘In a Bath Teashop’ (which you can also read here), MacNeice’s ‘Meeting point’ captures an  experience both ordinary (in the sense of common) and extra-ordinary: the exalted, exalting human experience of being “in love”. Though very different in tone, these poems both emphasise the time-out-of-time quality of the state of “in love-ness”. It is a privileged state in so many ways, of which ‘Meeting point’ reminds us; but, in the repeated refrain ‘time was away and somewhere else’, MacNeice emphasises how being in love frees us —for however long or short a time—from the usual human condition of being, and knowing ourselves to be, unavoidably subject to time. Indeed, by the end of the poem, the repeated refrain ‘time was away and somewhere else’ has become ‘time was away and she was here’. This underlines how the presence of the beloved obliterates and as it were replaces time.

I love so much about this poem. Aside from the refrain, however, what stays with me always is the line ‘God or whatever means the Good’. Particularly in a time when religion seems to be so divisive (though perhaps ’twas ever thus), this is, for me anyway, such a simple, beautiful and therefore useful way to refer to something/someone. It acknowledges the existence of different concepts and understandings—’whatever means the Good’—at the same time as it invites us to see what is common to them all.

And that penultimate stanza is so neatly circular. The word-for-word repetition in the first and fifth lines, and the way the stanza’s argument seamlessly moves us from statement to restatement, seems somehow to enact the process of “proving” something, which the stanza describes. ‘[T]he body’s peace’ manifests ‘what the heart has understood’, which itself verifies ‘God or whatever means the Good’; which whole process is a cause for praise to ‘God or whatever means the Good’. The process works forwards, backwards and probably sideways for all I can tell. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Do have a look at the Betjeman, too. Some of the diction feels of its time, and may grate on 21st century sensibilities; but this poem, too, exalts the state of exaltation in a way which those of us lucky (?) enough to fall in love cannot but recognise.