I remember the first poem that really excited me. I think I was about 9-years-old and my Mum gave me this beautiful Children's Encyclopedia; a menagerie of stories, folk tales, myths and of course, poems.
But the one which made the most impact on me was "Silver" by Walter de la Mare. Even after all these years, mentally reciting the opening line fills me with mystical wonder:
Slowly, silently, now the moon,
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
It was the beginning of an affair that has so far, continued for 15 years (nearly, my birthday is on Saturday) and one which shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
Soon after, I began to explore the land a little more. Yeats and Heaney quickly became firm favourites. I would recite lines as I walked around the garden, the lyrical quality of the verse adding extra magic to my land of imaginary games.
I would play around with ways of reading them; different pauses, the pace of a line slowed and quickened to assess which sounded better, the tinkering of pronunciation.
As I got older, my knowledge gratefully widened through the introduction of new poets to love. John Donne, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, William Stafford, e.e. cummings, John Keats... the list goes on.
In a similar way the lyrics of music spoke to me, poetry did the same. My teenage bedroom was peppered with quotations on the walls from my favourite musicians and poets; and if I'm perfectly honest, my adult bedroom is the same (although the lines are a little less angsty and a bit more insightful).
When I hear people say poetry is boring and stuffy, I desperately want to introduce them to some exceptional verse. Poetry is a living thing; an image-filled, wonderful source of reflection on life. There is quite literally a poem, or sometimes, a single line, that can reflect ones past or present situation in a single breath.
Sylvia Plath's "Child" conveys the intense love a mother feels towards her child:
"Your clear eye is the one absolute beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with colour and ducks,
the zoo of the new"
The devotion in W.B. Yeats "When You Are Old":
"When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
and nodding by the fire
take down this book and slowly read,
and dreams of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;"
The frustration in Rich's "Trying To Talk With A Man":
"that sounds like the silence of the place
except that it came with us
and is familiar
and everything we were saying until now
was an effort to blot it out -
coming out here we are up against it
Out here I feel more helpless
with you than without you"
The playful humour of Margaret Atwood's "You Fit Into Me":
"you fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye"
The despair at the death of a loved one in W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues":
"He was my North, my South, my East and West
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong."
Searching for a lost piece of paper earlier today brought to my attention an old poetry book of mine. Flipping through the soft, well-worn pages, brought me such happiness. A simple joy at the memory of a verse; a smile across my lips at an amusing image.
I remembered the hand-written copies of love poems given to me by ardent suitors, of books and collections bequeathed to me by teachers and mentors. But more than anything, I remember, and treasure, the addition poetry has made to my life.
Poetry has the power to inspire, to reveal, to educate. It has a beauty that anybody can find. It is the magic of words stitched into sentences, sentences molded into verse, to create something which jars your soul and crystallizes your perspective. It is a door, once opened, that will never be shut again.