As it was National Poetry Day yesterday, I asked colleagues at work for their favourite poems and stuck them up around the building. It’s been really great seeing what choices people make – I’ve read some poems I’ve never heard of before, re-read some gorgeous ones, and remembered some from when I was little that either people remember or they read with their children It’s also been fascinating when people have given me reasons for their choices. A lot of the time it’s been something they studied at school or something that they had to memorise (not something we do very much of now!) but I love the fact that these poems have stayed with them and I think it’s part of my responsibility to make sure that the poetry I do with students has some of that resonance.
Below is a fairly lengthy poem that was one of the choices – it’s one I first read at university when I took a modern American poetry unit, trying to explore poetry more because it wasn’t something I felt very confident with but wanted to enjoy more. Ironically, I still feel that way! Despite spending a lot of time analysing poetry I’ve spent very little writing it; one of my goals is to writer more poetry because it really makes you focus on language. When every word counts, you have to find precisely the right one.
I didn’t really get much of the unit’s poetry – I think we studied some Robert Frost that I quite liked, some Wallace and some e.e.cummings which I didn’t really. And this. We read a few works by HD (Hilda Doolittle) and I loved the imagery of it. The colours she uses here are some of my favourite, so vivid and real. More than that, though, I love the tone of this – the Eurydice myth is so enticing and has been reinvented by many writers, but I adore the way that HD makes Eurydice’s voice both angry and plaintive at the same time. Her repeated questioning of Orpheus, her phrasing “yet for your arrogance” is masterful, growing in frustration and anger, but I always imagine this being spoken in a very controlled, shaking under the surface voice where Eurydice is determined to have her voice, finally, heard.
The Carol Ann Duffy poem has a similar idea, that of giving Eurydice the opportunity to tell her side of the story, but I prefer HD’s – Duffy’s is too arch, too knowing and smug herself (as I find several of her characters in The World’s Wife) but HD’s version is simply trying to explain to Orpheus the terrible mistake he has made in coming for her.