Sunday 17 February 2019

Poetry Please Help Us! by Tracy Darnton

In a rather busy month, I thought I’d share some rambling thoughts on poetry. 

I’m judging a school poetry competition at the moment which has turned out to be a Herculean task due to the sheer brilliance and diversity of the entries, and it’s made me reflect on poetry and how I react to it - and how it helps me to find a moment of calm and insight.
I still know many of these by heart

I’m a life-long learner and every Wednesday morning I spend a couple of hours with like-minded folk looking at art, literature, film and social history. In recent months, we’ve studied and enjoyed the poetry of Byron, Keats, Shelley, Yeats, Hardy, Heaney, Ginsberg, William Carlos Williams, Rossetti, Blake, Carol Ann Duffy and – too many to mention – and thought about poems within their social context.

What will we make of today’s poetry looking back? According to The Guardian the other week, sales of poetry were at their highest ever level last year. The rise of poetry is one of the unintended consequences of all the current uncertainties in life, the upheaval of Brexit, the cheapening of language and the blurring of truth and lies. As language gets abbreviated into text speak, as words are tossed casually around, there’s something powerful in falling back on the English language and revelling in the rhythms. As we grapple to find some sense in what the heck’s going on in the world, well-chosen lines of poetry can fill that gap.

We can share poetry now so easily on social media, in competitions, poetry slams, open mic nights, YouTube, Instagram. Poets who struggled to reach an audience before can now have millions of followers.  

Advertisers have long recognised that poems have the power to move us and give us that elusive feeling. Who’d have thought a poem could be used effectively to sell something as dry as financial services, a savings account or a mortgage? But the Nationwide Building Society campaign didn’t focus on the endless form filling or being put on hold. Instead, they used poets speaking direct to camera, making us feel about family and milestones in our lives. Centreparcs adverts have used the William Henry Davies hundred-year-old Leisure poem (What is this life, if full of care etc...) and recently the modern musings of a Dad, Mum and teenager ‘This is Family’ campaign which I can’t help but find moving, despite myself.

At the Sassie retreat in December, June Crebbin ran a poetry workshop and it was startling how many of us poured deep-held feelings into such short pieces. June herself wrote a poem in another session which struck an emotional chord with many. It was circulated afterwards to those of us – myself included – who cheerily said we’d like it at our funerals! I marvel at how the arrangement of so few lines – ten beautifully crafted ones in June’s case – generates such a reaction.

So, as I deliberate between the poems on remembering and forgetting scattered across my desk, I have June’s poem pinned up too, as a reminder of the power of words to move us, to give us time out and a much-needed breath in a hectic and confusing world.

Tracy Darnton is the author of The Truth About Lies, currently shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019.

You can follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton

1 comment:

Pippa Goodhart said...

I'd love to read June's poem. Would June be happy for you to post it?