National Poetry Day – favourite poets

It’s National Poetry Day today and unfortunately I will not have the time to go to either the Poetry Library or the Poetry Cafe. But I wanted to do a quick poll to see who your favourite poets are – if you like poetry at all…

I have far too many favourites, old and new, but my way into poetry is very conventional indeed.

I loved learning poems by heart and reciting them and my first such ‘show’ was Hilaire Belloc’s ‘Matilda told such frightful lies, it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes’. Then I went through the obligatory Edward Lear, Lewis Carroll, Roald Dahl and ee cummings (‘anyone lived in a pretty how town…’). I can still recite many of those childhood favourites from memory. And, for some reason, I still remember huge chunks of ‘The Lady of Shalott’ by Tennyson.

Then I discovered the French and German poets (initially somewhat reluctantly, at school): Paul Eluard ‘J’écris ton nom. Liberté.’, Hälfte des Lebens by Hölderlin, Schiller, which led to adolescent exploration and obsession (with Rimbaud and Baudelaire and other bad boys…). In Romania we had to analyse in minute detail the poems of Eminescu, which perhaps led to my feeling I had overdosed on him, especially his epic historical poems, but when I fell in love I could not get enough of the romantic and melodious enchantment of Blaga, Labiș, Nichita Stănescu.

And then I was hooked. But it was the fun children’s poetry which paved the way to John Donne, T. S. Eliot, Rilke, Paul Celan, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Marina Tsvetaeva, Louise Labé  and so many more.

I still love reading poetry out loud for the sheer delight of the sound of it, the way it feels in my mouth. I love listening to it, even when I don’t understand the language. It paints pictures in my head.

Sadly, I have lost my ability to instantly remember any poem I hear a couple of times…

So tell me how you discovered poetry? Did you have to learn poems by heart and recite them at school? Did you have to over-analyse them at school, which destroyed any feeling you might have had for them?

22 thoughts on “National Poetry Day – favourite poets”

  1. The first poet I fell in love with was Coleridge, in my final year of high school. My father had an extensive collection of English and American poets, and many of those books migrated into my own collection over the years. My son, who is not a great reader otherwise, then started stealing them! I don’t consider myself any kind of an expert, but the more I write, the more I turn to poetry to savour language which I hope will feed back into my essay writing. I am regularly buying collections of works by poets I wish to know better, and exploring the work of contemporary poets. I seem to be building a collection of Australian poetry, in large part because I have come to know a number of Australian poets through Twitter (although they’re a day ahead we’re often online at the same time).

    1. I know next to nothing about Australian poetry, so I may ask you for recommendations. And yes, how could I forget Coleridge? Kublai Khan and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner were other childhood favourites. One thing about rhymed poetry – so much easier to remember!

  2. I used to write poetry, and loved reading it at school – the more technical and complex, the better, because I loved analysing them and taking them apart. French poetry was good for that, Apollinaire and Louis Labe (glad someone else knows her!), and John Donne, who was my first poetic love, and George Herbert. I also devoured Philip Larkin, who has this uncanny ability to hide his rhymes in plain sight, and more recently Anne Carson and Sharon Olds have been mind-blowing.

    1. I perversely read the Metaphysical poets and John Donne especially because they were forbidden in Romania at the time (too ‘religious’, apparently). Nothing like banning books to whet the reading appetite, I find.

      1. Wow. I mean, they ARE very religious, but they’re also quite sexy. You’re right, though—I’ve never wanted to read anything as badly as the books I was told to wait to read til I was older.

  3. What a lovely post, Marina Sofia! You know, it’s funny. I discovered poetry a bit accidentally. There were a few poetry collections in my home when I was growing up, and I got curious about them and read. That’s my first memory of reading poetry. And then, we did poetry in school, too, of course. I’ve always admired the skill it takes to use words like that…

  4. I’ll second the Sharon Olds vote…she’s amazing. I also love Charles Simic, Emily Dickinson, John Berryman, Jane Kenyon, and others who are escaping my mind at the moment. Wonderful post!

  5. Wow! I can’t actually remember the first poetry I loved, though Dickinson and Cummings are the oldest poetry books I have from my teens. And I suppose reading Dr. Seuss at an early age counts. Then came Plath and Stevie Smith, and I studied Philip Larkin at school and he became one of my lifelong poetic loves. Later on in my teens came the Russians and then Mayakovsky, one of my major obsessions. So many wonderful poets….

    1. How could I forget Dr Seuss? I could still recite some of them word for word and my children could ‘read’ the books before they could even make out the letters.

  6. Lovely post, Marina Sofia! There was an anthology of poetry in my junior class bookshelves that I read and re-read. I still love Michael Rosen, Roger McGough and the Ahlbergs. Then at secondary school I fell in love with Shakespeare, and only a few years ago did a masters in early modern literature. Contemporary poets I like Paul Muldoon and Pascale Petit and still mourn the loss of Seamus Heaney.

    1. I’m so glad you mention Pascale Petit – I am very fond of her myself, and Seamus Heaney is of course unforgettable. I think the children’s poets play a very important part in nurturing that love of language and sounds and play with words.

  7. I think it was the war poets who first grabbed my attention – Dulce et Decorum Est, etc. Then moved on to Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and I still have a soft spot for some of DH Lawrence’s poems. Sadly I really haven’t kept up with poetry though in my adult life – I think I needed those classroom discussions to bring out the meanings. I can still recite swathes of the poetry I learned at school, and Shakespeare speeches, but seem to have lost the ability to memorise new ones – laziness, I suspect.

    1. Ah, you’re like me then! Although perhaps contemporary free verse is harder to memorise than rhyming cadences. I remember the day and moment when I first read Dulce et Decorum Est in class – it just brought me out in goosebumps. It was the first time I realised that poetry can be so visceral and talk about nasty things as well.

  8. I remember very little about learning poetry in school other than the book we had which was called The Golden Treasury and had poems from different periods (it was a very conservative collection of the ‘great’ poets). It wasn’t until adulthood that I really began to appreciate poetry more – favourites are Donne, Coleridge, William Blake and from more recent times Roger McGough.

  9. The first poem I remember having to learn was a Walter de la Mere one that started ‘Slowly, silently now the moon walks the night in her silver shoon … and then came Shakespeare – the quality of mercy, is this the dagger, there is a bank, to be or not to be and then reams of King Lear at A’level. I had to do Houseman and Lowell at A’Level and Lowell completely defeated me and I didn’t really enjoy Houseman much either. On the other hand Milton’s Paradise Lost I absolutely loved. My mother could recount reams of poetry and would do so at the drop of a hat. I used to read a lot of Anne Sexton – dark and very direct. There was a time when I loved her.

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