Poetry, not for the likes of me
(an article I wrote for In Touch Magazine.)
…is what I thought after I read, “a four-foot box, a foot for every year.” Weird and morbid stuff. The next day in school we were asked to recite Midterm Break and as the silent recital did the rounds our teacher was reddening. Double homework loomed for us that night in ‘80s Ireland. That was – until it came to me.
I ignored the whispers of, “All hope’s lost now, sure that one will never know it.”
I repeated it word for word with an air of Bardic performance! Funny thing was no one seemed happy with me and though we’d no double homework, everyone seemed suspicious of me.
“How did you learn it? All of it? In one night? Teacher only asked for the first verse, like?”
You see, I was living that poem, my dad had cancer, it wasn’t looking good and that poem…well, it lent my breath to the words my heart could not beat out. Poetry was weird but maybe poetry was also special…and poetry seemed to know me.
Ireland’s first lockdown was hard on everyone. Harder still was no longer living busy lives and nowhere else left to hide; from ourselves. Being a teacher, parent, into wellness, I’d no time for the arts. Wasn’t for me – it was for others with academics in it, who lived in cities and went to poetry readings, not toddler groups. Again, I was left with no choice, lockdown was the reddening teacher and so I turned to poetry.
Two years later, I’ve since set up an open-access poetry journal, the coolest publishing press on the scene, and am well published myself. Beir Bua Press publishes experimental and lyrical poetry by the finest poets: some new with no academics in poetry, a few rather famous, and some professors in avant-garde poetry. But all are passionate about poetry and love to see their work read. They embraced me despite my newness because to the actual poets – it’s just words on a page waiting for someone to read it / feel it / and be seen. Poetry didn’t want me to be perfect enough or cool enough, it didn’t need me to be an expert. It just knew me, and it used my breath to utter words and concepts beyond me. Can you imagine what it could do for you or the pupils in your class? If it wasn’t for my 6th class teacher and Seamus Heaney, my life would have been like double homework all day long!
Easy ways to include poetry
● Social media – follow a few poets, read their work, follow their journey, the rejections and acceptances, their workshops and love of words.
● Attend a free poetry launch – Beir Bua Press does a launch last Friday of the month, free, fun, and the audience doesn’t have to participate – just listen with their camera off, should they choose.
● Use your Notes app to jot down words that interest you during your day, and then later – put them into a sentence.
● YouTube or Podcasts – I like YouTube, handy app, no commitment. Sometimes I search for Irish poetry or maybe a particular poet I enjoy and listen to it as I drive to school or do housework.
● Normalise poetry – it’s just words that play with creating images. Anyone can write poetry. Anyone can enjoy it. Poetry is ours.
● Experimental poetry – while it does help to truly understand the rules of poetry…the label of experimental poetry invites us to break the rules. So, if you don’t know the rules to begin with…then write away!