(Maggie, if you'd like me to move this to another section, just say)
After a conversation between Anna and I on Trish's Lonely River poem, I got to wondering, what got you all interested in poetry?
As I mentioned, I've only been writing for a few years. I wrote my first poem on a flight home from work one night. I was watching a film (can't remember what) and randomly felt the urge to stop and write down how I was feeling, into a poem. Wasn't much of a poem, but still, I was hooked, and began reading more. I really didn't know where to start, so would buy random books in second hand stores, from well known poets to the obscure, and write and read at every opportunity until I found poets and a style I was comfortable with. I joined poetry circle which I found reasonably useful at the time, it was there I first came across Anna and Tom, however I don't use PC at all anymore. I don't why, but I remember being surprised at how much bickering went on. Now I know the poet's ego is a sensitive thing! I later joined a writing group, who would meet weekly, but unfortunately haven't found anything similar since moving back to Ireland.
I remember when I got my first poem accepted, I told my mum, who didn't know I had developed an interest in poetry. She got up and left the room, returning a few minutes later with a mint condition copy of Seamus Heaney's Haw Lantern, with a personal dedication to me from Seamus. He had visited the primary school where she taught, some 20 years previous, and he signed a few books. She thought then was the perfect moment to give it to me. I've attached a pic of it.
I don't know what drives me to write, I just enjoy it immensely, and feel a release or accomplishment each time I finish a poem, even if the poem itself is not very good. I'm not a prolific writer, at this point in my life anyway, and read more than I write. I don't believe I'll ever have multiple collections published but I would like to have one, even if I publish it myself, just to have. Also if time permits, at some point I'd like to study poetry, formally.
I would love to hear how the rest of you started out. If you don't want to share that's absolutely fine. I'm just intrigued.
This is a great topic and I'm happy to share my experience.. . though it isn't really about how I started off writing poetry but rather how I started off writing lyrics and songs.
Up till the beginning of my 2nd Year in college, I was playing and singing only “covers” … other people’s songs: songs by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel, etc.
I wrote my own first song in August 1976.
I remember it all happened quite unexpectedly:
I was idly strumming my guitar in my hostel room one afternoon, when the first lines of my first-ever original song just came to me. I can’t explain how or why, but suddenly, verse after verse of lyric was literally tumbling out of my head and I found myself struggling to keep up, to write it all down, so that I wouldn’t forget anything. Over the course of that one memorable afternoon, I had my very first composition fully completed, with both, lyrics and music in place.
I remember being very surprised myself, albeit most pleasantly, by the suddenness and ease with which it had all happened. And how it all seemed to have happened almost completely involuntarily!
Once that creative tap had been turned on, there was no turning it off: the flow soon became a torrent... I was literally composing songs in my head all of my waking hours, when I was not working or studying… and sometimes even when I was: during meals, while walking back to the hostel from college, while taking a break in the evening, before going to bed, …. all the time.
Over the course of the next 3 years, I had written close to 40 songs…. roughly a song a month and most times I was working on two, maybe three, song ideas at the same time. I quickly realised that I would need to have a separate songbook to write down my own songs in and started one in late 1977 …. I still have that handwritten book with me today… with close to 80 songs of mine in it, as of today.
It was/is beautiful in every way. (I'm quite familiar with Stewart, fell in love with Katie. Hope everyone chooses to watch it, with your thumbs up. 😊.
Back in March of 1988, Robert Hoffman wrote the following in an article for The Scientist. "...The language of science is a language under stress. Words are being made to describe things that seem indescribable in words—equations, chemical structures and so forth. Words don’t, cannot mean all that they stand for, yet they are all we have to describe experience. By being a natural language under tension, the language of science is inherently poetic. There is metaphor aplenty in science. Emotions emerge shaped as states of matter and, more interestingly, matter acts out what goes on in the soul. One thing is certainly not true: that scientists have some greater insight into the workings of nature than poets. Interestingly, I find that many humanists deep down feel that scientists have such inner knowledge that is barred to them. Perhaps we scientists do, but in such carefully circumscribed pieces of the universe! Poetry soars, all around the tangible, in deep dark, through a world we reveal and make, us, their obvious ability to transmit meaning in the face of an inherent circularity in their definitions. It seems obvious to me to use words as best I can in teaching myself and my coworkers. Some call that research. Or to instruct others in what I’ve learned myself, in ever-widening circles of audience. Some call that teaching. The words are important in science, as much as we might deny it, as much as we might claim that they just represent some underlying material reality. It seems equally obvious to me that I should marshal words to try to write poetry. I write poetry to penetrate the world around me, and to comprehend my reactions to it.
His last line pretty much sums me up. I write poetry to penetrate the world around me, and to comprehend my reactions to it.
The whole article.
Thanks for mentioning this film, Anna. I enjoyed it very much.
A truly beautiful and uplifting film on the nature of being human the art of perfection and transcendent music--without a generous helping of gratuitous sex and disturbing language.
The scenery and music is one my mom lived and fostered in me.
Will stay with you--the feel of this film. the way poetry is music and a world without either is just not possible. ~~~ A community is thus comprised.
I'm getting to this a few weeks late, apologies, but thank you for starting the thread. It is nice putting more flesh on everybody's words.
As with most things in my life, my interest came very conventionally, through High School poetry classes and being forced to engage with puzzles that suddenly stabbed me in the heart. Specifically Prufrock, The Second Coming, and Dover Beach. The hot flash of excitement and beauty that I felt on seeing how these mixtures of music and mystery and made up rules could speak to me past the plain meaning of the words was intoxicating. Trying to capture that with my own words is empowering as it always seems that with just mind and (rhetorical) pen I might stumble on masterpiece in just an hour or two. I think Poetry feeds a vanity of mine, but also a craving to produce something that has value and might delight someone else. There may have to be an infinite amount of monkeys, but I just might be the one to type out "
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"
I could have posted this to anyone's poem, but thought this space would be the most appropriate, so to speak... Sabbaths 1999, VII
by Wendell Berry
Again I resume the long lesson: how small a thing can be pleasing, how little in this hard world it takes to satisfy the mind and bring it to its rest. With the ongoing havoc the woods this morning is almost unnaturally still. Through stalled air, unshadowed light, a few leaves fall of their own weight. The sky is gray. It begins in mist almost at the ground and rises forever. The trees rise in silence almost natural, but not quite, almost eternal, but not quite. What more did I think I wanted? Here is what has always been. Here is what will always be. Even in me, the Maker of all this returns in rest, even to the slightest of His works, a yellow leaf slowly falling, and is pleased.
-- from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry
/ Image by Mark Grant-Jones /
View All Poems by Wendell Berry
It's been a while since we've had a poem by Wendell Berry. And, yes, maybe this poem is for a misty autumn morning, but it suits today just as well...
Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing...
That's the "long lesson," the slow realization of a lifetime lived with attention: the deep satisfaction of simple moments. Grand experiences may serve as important punctuation marks to life, but it is only when we deeply engage with the gentle flow of small events that we come to know our lives. Remember, real magic is hidden; it is hidden in those quiet moments.
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.
And nature is our constant teacher and guide, again and again bringing us back to ourselves.
With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
When we walk well among the woods, with the quiet attention that comes only when self is left behind, we glide through the eternal moment.
What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
And we just might come to recognize the Source of "all this" -- right here, within this moment, within our own breast.
Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest...
Berry's title tells us this poem is about the Sabbath. He understands the real meaning of the Sabbath. It is not the one day out of seven when one goes to church or synagogue. Sabbath is the living moment of sacred rest. It isn't a question of how often we sit within a steepled hall. Until the mind quiets and comes to rest in the heart, we have not yet honored the Sabbath.
The image of the falling leaf, the reference to the day of rest, this also gently suggests something of death to us. The poet is walking through the woods in autumn and contemplating the how things end, how our own lives play out and come to a close, and there is a quiet contentment. We might find a fullness in that moment of awareness when we simply allow ourselves to be at rest in the natural rhythm of things. Death is not a horror or a source of dread but, in its right time, a strangely sweet yielding, a sabbath.
Whichever day of the week you read this, have a beautiful day of rest and contemplation!
I needed to put more flesh on the above post, so to speak and quote Alexander: "It is common values that hold any community together." In my experience, my life is my scientific project, my own litmus test, as it were. In that, I reach, embrace and transcend time, duality, space in the experience of intuitive living...with that comes words to fill in all the blanks of life. Tis hot days and cool nights, quite the *Indian summer* so engaging in Ohio. ~~ I don't much remember the days and nights of sleepless (just how did I live through that? must be like labor, if women remembered who'd choose to have more children?) with my babies, but certainly could identify with the syndrome as they experienced their babies.
~~ Blessings of peace and love, health and joy to one and all.
This *getting to know you* segment of scribble camp is for the birds. Birds that twitter poetry and stories of how one became a poet. I love em all. love u2...
Alexander, That was such a beautifully-written, thoughtfully articulated piece about why you became interested in poetry, and how you overcame your initial disinterest in Seamus Heaney. I loved reading that. I was always struck by the details! in Heaney's work, the shape of a bicycle seat, watching his father's shovel going in and out of dirt. I don't want to say they sounded exotic in any way, they didn't. They became much more than tools, in his hands. Sorry you're experiencing such a heatwave in Ireland, the climate here, normally similar to yours, is a cool 70. What a great idea this was, Niall. I'm enjoying reading the replies.
My son has been there about 10 years now. My daughter-in-laws family have a cottage beside Brancaster beach in Norfolk which isn't far away. If you like giant beaches and not many people on them it is a great place. Also lots of bird watching in reserves beside it if you are into that.
Hi Niall, I just got back on Sunday after 10 days in Cambridge where my son lives. We peaked at 98 deg - way too much for me, given the Northern Ireland record high is only 87. I pity you with the baby.
I think there are many paths that lead to interest in poetry. We are genetically programmed to communicate, to scan for patterns, to test boundaries, to rise to challenges, to synthesise ideas and test them, and of course we dream and have to make sense of that. We are also culturally conditioned to treat some variations of these behaviours as rewarding, logically or aesthetically pleasing or in the extreme, as signs of illness. Poetry is driven and guided by these impulses and possibly others as a means of satisfying the highest needs of self-actualisation. Life of course is insistent with its demands and how one responds by giving time to reading and /or writing poetry gets thoroughly mashed up at times. What balance of influences got me interested is a bit of a mystery, or at least an ex post facto rationalisation. What weight attaches to the memory of my father quoting Burns or my mother reciting Lochinvar? What weight to being born on a farm rather than town and to being socialised late rather than early, casting me into a bit of an outsider role. I still experienced the tail-end of the pre-TV generation that made its own entertainment in neighbours’ houses – music, stories, recitations, general craic; and many pubs were more inclusively the same rather than themed and competitive. So poetry was initially entertainment though nowadays that criterion seems less important.
It was always in the air though. James Simmons taught at my school and sang his take on the recent news several days a week on BBC morning radio; this before he established the Poet’s House on Islandmagee and taught a Master’s programme there. At Queen’s I played bridge in the snack bar with Paul Muldoon and his then girlfriend, later wife (for a time) Anne-Marie Conway. I was always a scientist though and had never really got to grips with literature. When I started to read poetry seriously back then and made my first attempts at writing it was like an attempt to break a code that had puzzled me. It was a problem to be unlocked like religion. Neither came naturally but it seemed you were out of step if you admitted the fundamental principles escaped you. Eventually I cracked them both, discarded one and embraced the other for broadly the same reasons. As an enquirer after truth it seemed the answers didn’t lie in the surface story but lay in understanding fully what people meant and felt when they described phenomena. Poetry for me therefore has always been concerned with the poem as a means of accessing the inner life of the poet. Some detail of their outer life is essential therefore as a pointer, clarifier and contextualiser. All bios therefore are a fascination for me.
Since the poem is important for the truth it contains I lose interest when I detect ambiguous meanings and punctuation that leads to alternative/unintended readings. If I don’t know what is intended I can’t access the mind that conceived it or else I perceive it to be such a muddle that I will learn nothing from doing so. Found poems and other incidental and humorous work is all good grist to the mill though in the way wit and entertainment always is. I still get enjoyment too from the simple act of analysing and decoding what may be presented as an obscure piece of work.
It took me a long time to appreciate Seamus Heaney. Our rural backgrounds and the traditions we were familiar with overlapped so much that he just seemed to be writing about what was everyday. If he had an image of an old griddle leaning on a gable wall, I had the same image of one leaning on my grandmother’s wall. If he had encountered a bog-man in Denmark, my father had told me stories of what they had pulled out of bogs in Monaghan, if he endured army searches and blocked roads travelling home from Wicklow, we all endured them travelling the same route and many others. If religion made no difference to his farming neighbours, neither did it to ours. The troubles were for townies you didn’t want near the countryside. It was only when I reached the stage of looking back that I discovered the nuances and craft in the detail he chose to share. What helped me most though were his essays of criticism - the thematic approach he took picking apart authors across centuries and genres; how he put into words what made a poem a poem. He too knew the lives of the poets as well as their poems.
It is common values that hold any community together. When I wrote that the poem is a means of accessing the inner mind of the poet I think the emphasis for me is really on the values implicit there. Poems are often about the angst or emotion associated with the thousand decisions we make each day. Those decisions depict existential values in action. Where they are professed values, such as religious or political ones, I have no interest and stop reading, but where they illustrate and give insight to the commonality of experience I am drawn in to what Heaney refers to as the transcendent realm that is woven into poetry; not directly in the words but suffusing them. So, it may have involved a bit of a detour, but the answer to your question “what got me interested in poetry” was really a hankering for a community of shared values. The driver for that was my personal reaction to the environmental crises faced by the world in the 1960s and 70s, which was one of despair and rejection of establishment values. The magazines I subscribed to then were New Scientist, The Ecologist and The Anarchist Weekly, which about sums it up. Not surprising then that the first poets I was attracted to were the beat poets, but I have a natural antipathy to the polemical so drifted more towards individual identity and freedoms so eec became a major attraction. There have been many since, and the search goes on, half-heartedly now the utopian dreams have faded, but still bringing a little joy when the spirit of a poem sets my wind chimes tinkling.
Thanks for starting this conversation, Niall. I wrote my first poems in high school. I was a fan of Tommy Smothers’ comedy on the Smothers Bros. Show. I remember him reading a poem he had written and it really cracked me up but I also thought he was breaking some rules in a less than professional , academic way which I found liberating.I did write a serious poem for my school newspaper under the nom de plume, Jedidiah Yssup. I was embarrassed to be thought of as a poet by my peers. I showed a friend one of my funny poems while we were in English class and our teacher asked why we were laughing. He read it and then made me come to the front of the class and read it aloud. I stammered through it and I was a big hit with my classmates. I was having trouble at home and I wasn’t turning in my assigned book reports. My teacher, Mr. Ciarico, told me in front of the class that if I wrote and read a poem to the class each week he would give me an A for the class. I had been looking at a D or an F for not turning in my assignments. I readily agreed as I had already written enough poems to get me through to graduation. I enlisted into the Air Force 3 months after High School so that I wouldn’t get drafted in the Army and sent to Viet Nam. I didn’t write poetry during those years but when I got out in 1970 I had the GI Bill and I decided to take some classes at a Community College in Tucson. I didn’t want to take any classes that demanded lots of homework so I signed up for a creative writing class and a poetry class along with my freshman English class. A poet friend turned me onto James Tate’s The Lost Pilot book of poetry and I was enthralled and amazed by his poetry & I wanted to write like him. I was 23 y/o. There were excellent poets who were teaching at the University of AZ as well and they let me sit in on their classes without having to be an official student. That’s my story & I’m sticking to it.
Seamus Heaney spoke at my nephew's graduation many years ago. it was outdoors in a big football stadium and all I remember is that the acoustics were so bad they were like unintelligible train station announcements. I wrote a lot in High school and college, but I stopped writing after that until just a few years ago I met a woman on a plane who was on the board of The frost Place. They run a writers retreat every summer in the woods of New hampshire so I decided to go and have never looked back.
That's the reason Seamus Heaney was loved the world over....what a magnificent poem. Wish I could hear you read it!
I had an unexpected visit to my parents house today, and with an hour to spare, visited the Seamus Heaney "Homeplace". If any of you get the chance to visit Ireland, you should put this on your to do list. Even if you're not an admirer, I would highly recommend a visit.
Here is an audio clip I recorded today, of Mid-Term Break, a poem about his younger brother who died in a road accident.
In my experience it is the EXCHANGE of diverse ideas, platforms, experiences based on often very different lives that makes life interesting and often, insufferable. It's like life. One doesn't ordinarily live in perfect weather 24/7 all one's life However, the storms usually subside and with it comes fresh air, sunlight and hope.
I REALLY enjoy knowing about poets' lives, I often find them as fascinating as their work, often, I guess I'm the opposite. :-)
Got to be honest, I've never really been interested in why someone chooses to write, or when and why they first started-- if I'm looking to be inspired, I might read about their life, and their thoughts on poetry, but otherwise (present company excluded) poets don't really interest me, only their writing interests me.
I was an idiot when I was younger, with a lot of harebrained ideas (most of which I picked up at school) like, all that matters is self expression. Which explains why almost everything I wrote before the age of 40 was drivel. It was forums, like this place, that gave me a reason to write, and the ability.
Love this section of scribble camp. Could be called "getting to know you"...