An area of knowledge that I ashamed about, given that I have an English degree and teach the subject, is poetry.
I never really read poetry at school, studying only a few war poems during secondary school and one anthology at A-Level. By the time University started, I didn’t feel that I had the toolkit to analyse, or appreciate, poetry. So I purposefully avoided studying it. Yes, I was lazy. I chose the easy option.
Over the past year I have accumulated a number of poetry anthologies, and flicked through a few of them. I have also taught students some poetry analysis skills – which was helpful in developing my own.
Recently I bought several books that can be regarded as good ways into understanding and appreciating poetry:
- Poetry in the Making – Ted Hughes
- An Introduction to English Poetry – James Fenton
- The Secret Life of Poems – Tom Paulin
- 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem – Ruth Padel
- The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within – Stephen Fry.
It is interesting to note that all of the above have written poetry – even though Stephen Fry’s is not published – suggesting that the ability to understand and appreciate poetry is potentially linked to the ability to write it. As for which comes first, I’m not sure. I think they will grow and develop together.
I started with Fry’s book, partly because it was at the top of the pile, and partly because I have a little basic knowledge about poetry and was intrigued by part of the title that says it would unlock “the poet within”, at that point in the day I was feeling particularly creative.
When I read the main text, the main text ends up sounding like Fry reading it to me; my mind is playing tricks on me. I’ve only read the introduction and the first section of the first chapter.
The introduction was brilliant. It really fits with where I am, right now, on this journey. Throughout, Fry makes comparisons between poetry and another of other creative pursuits and hobbies. While not necessarily inspiring, he is differently motivational, not just in making you think that you can begin to understand the technicalities of poetry and appreciate it, but that you can begin to write it.
Of course, just reading the introduction doesn’t really mean that I have any more understanding of poetry than before. However, the first chapter is about metre, and Fry gives a far clearer explanation of metre than I’ve previously been given. He doesn’t just refer to how metre is used to construct poetry, he refers to common aspects between metre and speech, metre and music.
On a different note… When I read a non-fiction book, I keep a pen and paper nearby. The main quotation I made from the introduction is this:
In an open society everything the mind and hands can achieve is our birthright. It is up to us to claim it.
I’ve watched a fair few motivational videos on YouTube and listened to a few more motivational speeches. This quotation, to me, sounds like something that would fit right into one of those.
The quotation also encapsulates my attitude towards this journey: if I, or you, want to become a true polymath, the only that stopping us is ourselves.