Wednesday, 10 February 2016

“I imagine this midnight moment's forest"

Poetry is language in orbit."
-- Seamus Heaney

2014 was the year I discovered this; the first book of poetry I read by myself was The Hawk in the Rain by Ted Hughes, which captured my imagination with its startling images and formed the genesis of my love for the genre. To this day, Hughes is my favourite poet, because it was he who took me by the hand and led me into the world of poetry. Since then I've forayed through the world of verse, not as widely, perhaps, as I should have, but more than some, and in particular 2015 saw me falling in love with various poets. In what will essentially be a few mini-reviews, I'm going to share my findings with you.


What is poetry? How does one write it? What is its essence; what is the essence of the poet? Poetry in the Making is a series of transcriptions of radio programmes presented by Hughes, unlocking the enigma of poetry.

Ted Hughes is, as I mentioned, my #1 bae and long-time love. This book was incredibly interesting and helpful. Its various chapters give general writing advice and talk about specific poetic genres/subjects -- the weather, people, landscape. Hughes quotes many poets to illustrate his points, as well as giving his own poems as examples.

Imagine what you are writing about. See it and live it. Do not think it up laboriously, as if you were doing mental arithmetic. Just look at it, touch it, smell it, listen to it, turn yourself into it. When you do this, the words look after themselves, like magic."

One of my favourite bits of the book was that in which Hughes compares writing poetry to hunting. Growing up in rural Yorkshire Hughes spent most of his early life outdoors, and he had a passion for fishing. He imagines a poem as a fish, which the poet -- the fisherman -- desires to catch. The fisherman, he says, must lie very still on the bank holding his line, which has a little coloured float that bobs on the surface of the pond. In the fisherman's mind, the whole world shrinks to just that little float, and when it moves, he says, it is as if an electric shock runs through the fisherman. That's the feeling a truly good poem will give its reader. As the fisherman lies there he enters a sort of trance, and he can almost sense the fish swimming around deep in the pond. Likewise, the poet can sense the words he is using, swimming just outside his consciousness: this is the cloud of words that surrounds any one word, its shades of meaning and shifting connotation. When a poet chooses just the right word, he can catch the fish.

This is, of course, my paraphrase of Hughes' words, and for the truly clear and eloquent description you'll have to read the book. But that idea has captivated me: a poem is like a wild animal, beautiful and elusive and difficult to keep alive, but once caught, marvellous.

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest: 

Something else is alive 
Beside the clock’s loneliness 
And this blank page where my fingers move. 

Through the window I see no star: 
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness 
Is entering the loneliness: 

Cold, delicately as the dark snow, 
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf; 
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now 

Sets neat prints into the snow 
Between trees, and warily a lame 
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow 
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness, 
Brilliantly, concentratedly, 
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

~ The Thought-Fox, Ted Hughes


John Keats (1795-1821) is one of the most important and best-loved Romantic poets (the Romantics were an English school of poetry). Before his tragic death from consumption at the age of twenty-five, Keats was incredibly prolific, and his voice lives on, generation after generation.

I read the Complete Works of Keats -- a weighty task, but a worthwhile one -- as part of my preparation for Oxford interview. It was unsuccessful in getting me in -- I'm not sure that I've told you guys, but they gave me the Thumbs Down -- but it was wholly successful in introducing me to a wonderful poet.

Emotion quivers in every one of Keats' poems. He was a Romantic in the truest sense -- a dreamer of dreams, a lover of words, a man of great passion -- and, ultimately, he could not survive in our harsh and acerbic world. Within the Complete Works there are some poems that are not of the highest quality -- he was only twenty-five when he died, and the book reproduces all of his work, much of it posthumously, including the low moments -- but all of it has a spark of genius, and some of it is flawlessly stunning. Reading Keats has inspired me to read other Romantics -- I'm going to venture into Coleridge next -- and has given me a new faith in poetry and the world in general. His soul shines through in these poems. They are beautiful works.

 The air that floated by me seemed to say, 
Write! thou wilt never have a better day."

~ from Epistle to Charles Cowden Clarke // my newest writing-inspiration-quotation. I repeat this to myself often!

 The ocean, with its vastness, its blue green,
Its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes, its fears --
Its voice mysterious, which whoso hears
Must think on what will be, and what has been.

~ from Sonnet to my Brother George 

 A thing of beauty is a joy forever:
It's loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness

~ opening of Endymion // for me, this resonated with The Goldfinch:“it is a joy and a privilege to love a deathless object". The durability of art is a big theme of Keats', and one in which I'm very interested.

Beneath my palm-trees, by the river side, 
I sat a-weeping: in the whole world wide 
There was no one to ask me why I wept,
And so I kept
Brimming the water-lily cups with tears 
Cold as my fears.

~ from Endymion

No more will I count over, link by link
My chain of grief.

~ from Endymion // these short lines struck a chord with me 

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

~ from Ode to a Nightingale // click here to read the whole thing

Scroll back and reread The Thought-Fox, considering it in the light of the last two lines of Ode to a Nightingale. This, this is what truly interests me: the mind and reality; dreams and waking; universes here and universes elsewhere; what is and what could have been. 


The World's Wife by Carol Ann Duffy is a collection of poems that takes famous men and imagines the women behind them. It is witty and perceptive, often funny and always fresh. 

I met Carol Ann Duffy -- who is the British Poet Laureate -- at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August. She signed my books and we chatted about editing. I was on Cloud Nine.

The World's Wife is an absolutely brilliant book. If you're new to poetry, then I suggest Duffy as an excellent entry point (don't start with Keats!). This book is startling, shocking and hilarious by turn. I love Duffy's style -- she is very clever with rhyme, always new and never predictable -- and her voice is clear and perspicacious. Highly recommended.

Mrs Darwin

7 April 1852.

Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him --
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

~ a sample of the hilariosity (to use a Georgia Nicolson word) of this book

Anne Hathaway

“Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed ..."
(from Shakespeare's will)

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls. My lover's words
were shooting stars which fell to earth as kisses
on these lips; my body now a softer rhyme
to his, now echo, assonance; his touch
a verb dancing in the centre of a noun.
Some nights, I dreamed he'd written me, the bed
a page beneath his writer's hands. Romance
and drama played by touch, by scent, by taste.
In the other bed, the best, our guests dozed on, 
dribbling their prose. My living laughing love --
I hold him in the casket of my widow's head
as he held me upon that next best bed.

~ my favourite poem in the book. Most of the poems are -- rightly -- condemnatory, but I think this is an absolutely beautiful tribute to Shakespeare. It makes me quite emotional.


Rapture is a collection of fifty-two poems detailing a relationship from its beginning to its end.

This one is also signed. Again, it's very accessible for someone not yet into poetry; you can read it through from start to finish like a continuous narrative, because it's telling a story.

It is also utterly beautiful.

Falling in love 
is glamorous hell

~ from You // I love this 


When did your name
change from a proper noun
to a charm?

Its three vowels
like jewels
on the thread of my breath.

Its consonants 
brushing my mouth
like a kiss.

I love your name.
I say it again and again
in this summer rain.

I see it,
discreet in the alphabet, 
like a wish.

I pray it 
into the night
till its letters are light.

I hear your name
rhyming, rhyming,
rhyming with everything.


Three very different poets, who together made up -- largely -- my poetic journey through 2015. These are three of my very favourites, and I'd so recommend them all (if you're starting out, try Rapture first, or The Hawk in the Rain by Ted Hughes). 

What poetry have you been reading? I stated my Coleridge intentions, but what contemporary poets do you like? Like any ravenous bookworm, I'm always looking for recommendations.

Oh, and one small post-scriptular (that's totally a word) note: I finished redrafting my novel! I am feeling a) tired, b) happy and c) full of knowledge, because I have learnt so much! (In short: I am never ever going to write a book the way I've written this one. But who gets it right the first time, eh?)



  1. I started getting into poetry last year, it's really beautiful.

  2. *happy sigh* I love poetry! Sometimes, when I can understand it, at least. :P Thanks for sharing your favorites! And CONGRATULATIONS ON REDRAFTING YOUR NOVEL *bows in respect* Seriously. That is such an accomplishment! (And yes the Waterloo description was quite lengthy indeed.) Have fun in Chile! :)

    1. Same! And THANK YOU! ~bows in return~
      Yes indeed! And the one about the convent ... ~sweats~ Marius has just fallen in lurve with Cosette ...
      I am having fun! :D

  3. Oh wow! You've been busy reading poetry books! I've really been meaning to do that as well, so thank you for putting some good ones in my line of vision :)

    And WHOA! You're going to Chile??? That's awesome... I would love to hear about your trip when you get back. Enjoy your little vacation!
    - July,

    1. You're welcome! Go for some Duffy or The Hawk in the Rain (Hughes) <3

      I'm there (here!) right now! I will hopefully do a post about it when I get home :)

  4. This is probably one of my favourite blog posts ever. Your selection of poetry is gorgeous & it's encouraging to hear the stories of others who are venturing into that wonderful realm :) Keats is a bear sometimes. I love the Victorian poets myself; Oscar Wilde and Matthew Arnold are two (although Arnold is better known as a literary critic).

    1. I'm so glad, thank you so so much! Keats is a bear?! What does that mean? :')

      I've read a little bit of Arnold but no Wilde. ... Actually that's not true, I've read Reading Jail which I really like.

      Thank you for commenting and following, Squeaks! <3

    2. For a second I thought I mistyped but no, I did mean bear :P as in he can be a little arduous to read sometimes. I remember in university I read a fair bit of Keats and while he is certainly grand, he can also be a little overbearing sometimes (in my humble opinion; probably because I prefer less technical and more abstract poetry).

    3. Ohh, like bear as in short for overbearing? GOT IT.

      Yes, totally! Like, I love bits of Endymion -- bits are pure genius -- but some bits are so convoluted and unnecessary and juST GET TO THE POINT BOY MEETS GIRL COME ON JOHN I yelled at my book. Reading the complete works was a labour of love ... but then it was aaaalll his poetry until 24 which was a lot and if all my poetry got published all potential fans would run screaming from the awfulness so I think he did OK ;)

  5. *flails wildly* I need to read more poetry. It's been intriguing me more and more lately. <3 And I think it's awesome that you're going to Chile! I've been there once myself and it's a beautiful place.

    1. You must! Read Hughes I'm juST SAYING!

      I'm there right now, it is so beautiful!

  6. I haven't read much poetry lately, but Keats and Coleridge are two of my favorites - really interested in hearing what you think of him! Great post - makes me want to look into more poetry. That's too bad about Oxford, but I hope you're having a good time with your sister in Chile!

    1. Really? That's so exciting! (I love meeting fellow Keats-lovers ... not that I ever do!)

      Thank you, I am <3

  7. I love this post! I've always wanted to read more poetry, but I can never seem to get beyond children's poetry, Shel Silverstien, and some Shakespeare. Oh, and Lewis Carroll.

    I do really like that on of Coleridge's that you emailed. The what if one. It's up on my wall now.

    "Falling love is glamorous hell." I like that. :) Maybe I'll see if I can find some of Carol Ann Duffy's poetry around here.

    1. Do it! Raid the library! You could even buy a book! (I know, going mad!)

      Is it?! That makes me vair vair pleased.

      Falling love?! XD "Oh no, love is falling from the sky!" Ha. No. Falling IN love.

      But yes, get your Carol on! She is a babe.


Thanks for commenting! :)