All the world’s a poem

Bus Stop
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about my new book (Off My Chest - poetry for people who don’t ‘do’ poetry) and he expressed surprise, not that I could write anything decent, but at the subjects I’d chosen to write a poem about. The state of our bus stops, checkouts at the supermarket, a lost coat. And that got me thinking, what is a proper subject for a poem? Was I a bit peculiar with my choice of subject? I decided to see what other (current) writers were writing about and found I was in good company. I can’t quote the poetry but here are a few titles I quickly came across. Conversations With a Leg – Felix Dennis, Cheeses of Nazareth – Simon Armitage, Cod’s Roe for a Crying Woman – Annie Freud and A Story About Chicken Soup by American, Pulitzer prize winner Louis Simpson.

I think the range of subjects is much wider now (as against 50 years ago), because life, and the average person’s experience of it is much wider. There are so many more things to enthuse about, or celebrate. And certainly a lot more things to moan or complain about.
And that’s what I think poetry should do – reflect modern life. Engage. It’s why so much more poetry is being written by people who sixty years ago wouldn’t have dreamt of writing poetry. And it’s why more and more people are reading poetry. Because it is talking to them about things they care about, in language they can understand.

Strictly Poetry

Poetry is a lot like dancing, or dance. I came to this conclusion over the weekend while watching television. You can guess what. I know its sad, but there you are, we all need a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine of life go down. The thing is dance is a broad church. Even within ballroom there are lots of variations, some with more rules than others. And then there’s ballet, flamenco, clog, folk, salsa and belly just to mention a few. Oh, and of course, my kind of dancing.

And that’s how it is with poetry. You’ve got all the old conventional forms with their rules, sonnets, villanelles, quatrains etc but you’ve also got free verse and all kinds of experimental poetry - mainly American – Cut Outs, Ransom, Telephone Numbers and so on. Recently the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, even deemed tweets to be a form of poetry, and I agree.

So what about a new programme, Strictly Poetry. Anton du Beke would definitely be Oscar Wilde. Karen Hardy, the effervescent Wendy Cope, Craig Revel Horwood, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner - another disaster daarling!). The possibilities are endless. Poetry performed (often in competition) as it was a thousand years ago. You can’t possibly get everything out of a poem until you read it, or hear it read aloud. The pauses, the white space on the page in a poem are as important as the words. What about it BBC. I’m sure it would be a winner.

A treasure trove of books

I want to share with you a little gem I discovered a couple of years ago. It is strictly for book lovers and is a treasure trove of largely non-fiction delights. You can find them online at But they do send out a newspaper-like quarterly sale review, which is what I work from. There has never been a time when there are not at least six books that I want. For example, and by way of a taster, the latest mailing as just arrived and immediately I must have, ‘Dickens On France’ that includes accounts on a train journey from London to Paris and a rough channel crossing.
There’s ‘British Cinema of the 1950s’, ‘Young Stalin’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore – a snip at £5.95. Add to these, ‘Voices of Silence - The Alternative Book of First World War Poetry’ and, ‘88 The Giants of Jazz Piano’ and you can see that a new world has opened up before you. These guys are rescuing books that might otherwise disappear – in deed in some cases they have he last copies. They deserve out support.

Last Orders

Brompton Cemetery
I’ve read a couple of times recently that ‘so and so’ has died. And that they passed away at home, surrounded by friends and family. And it got me thinking that it was all a bit strange. I mean I’m not much of a one for parties, but having one while you’re on your death bed is definitely not to my taste. I mean how can you get away, other than permanently, if you get bored, or want to nip out for a smoke. And think about the fuss. Someone’s bound to cry, and that will set others off. And what are you going to talk about? It’s not as if you care what the weather forecast is for tomorrow.
I suppose one benefit is that you can be as rude as you like to the guests and they can’t complain. And, of course, you’re not likely to fall down if you have too much to drink, since you’re probably lying down already. No, I think I’d like to go while reading a good book, you could always sneak a look at the last page to find out who did it!

On another level we will all have to deal with someone’s death, and the subsequent funeral. There’s a poem attributed to Mary Elizabeth Frye (1904 – 2004) that I think makes a wonderful reading at any service.

Poem attributed to Mary Elizabeth Frye. Not copyrighted.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry:
I am not there. I did not die.