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Racontesse Musings... Poetry

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Lockdown has bought the poets out in force, but poetry appreciation isn't always so easy…

Detail from Henry Wallis's portrait of Chatterton (1856)
Detail from Henry Wallis's portrait of Chatterton (1856)

One minute 36 seconds and yet I can't attend. Don't get me wrong, I love poetry I really do – is there any other form that allows us to be so heartfelt and present. But, why does my attention always drift? I try to listen to the poetry voice, the one that is super earnest, hanging on the words, drawing them out, lingering so metaphors (the endless metaphors) can truly live, allowing the meaning to be fully contemplated. "Stuffed peppers for tea" is where my mind has wandered, creeping in the opposite direction from the mysteries and tragedies of the human condition.

To get anything from a poem, I have to be very stern with myself, "Come on brain, don't worry, the hard work will be over soon enough. Then you can have a treat," by treat, I mean it can get back to daydreaming, travelling to places unrestrained; inspired by the view from the window, or a longing for crisps.

I make space for the poem and sit without distraction and work through it line by line. This may sound like a joyless process; I assure you it's not. It gives me focus and for those moments I am actually 'mindful '. Imagine, genuine concentration! I'm exercising mindfulness with the added benefit of learning something at the same time. By committing the poems to memory, I can explore the scansion, choice of words and meaning. I can contemplate individual phrases easily, without referring to the page. Often, on sleepless nights, I speak the phrases over and over to entertain myself while staring out of the window at the stars.

The overwhelming benefit of learning poetry by heart is that my poetry voice is of my own choosing, there are no over earnest and alienating peaks and troughs or random lingerings – definitely not. My lazy, crisp-starved brain gets to make sense of it all by itself.

Sarah Gray

31 May 2020

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