It was National Poetry Day this week. Twitter was awash with gorgeous poems – the sheer volume of sentences and stanzas was a bit overwhelming. Because sometimes it’s just one word that hits home. A word to finish a stream of thought that tightens the throat and stops the breath.
Words have power. I don’t understand the alchemy of it but it’s magical. So without further ado here’s the poem that never fails – never – to stop me in my tracks.
The Committee Weighs In
by Andrea Cohen
I tell my mother
I've won the Nobel Prize.
Again? she says. Which
discipline this time?
It's a little game
we play: I pretend
I'm somebody, she
pretends she isn't dead.
A week in the van in the west – it was blustery. There’s nothing quite like the bite of the Atlantic, falling asleep to the sound of the waves is the best lullaby in the world. On occasion it’s perturbing in the van if the wind picks up (I’ve been known to sit in the footwell, rocking back and forth with my eyes closed, picturing us toppling over at any moment). But being out in proper Irish weather certainly blew away all the cobwebs and opened my soul a little bit more to what nature can do for us. Sand between the toes, hood up, face misted with ocean spray and always, the wind. Wonderful.
It made me think of this poem by Ted Hughes. Best enjoyed in a cosy cabin as the wind howls down the chimney.
One doesn’t like to blow one’s own trumpet but…I was shortlisted in a writing competition recently. My poem ‘Metamorphosis’ was chosen as one of the final three pieces. I shared the news on Twitter and then felt a bit embarrassed and full of myself. Why?
The art of the humblebrag is a relatively new one but it’s growing in popularity. Social media is the perfect home because we can hide behind our screens, tell half-truths, use image filters and generally make things out to be better than they are. This online arena has forced the humble bragger to wrestle with the attempt to share good news but without tone of voice or body language, so it’s a particular skill. I’m not sure we’re getting it right.
Some good recent examples:
The fake complaint: So stressed: my company has outgrown my tiny office and I don’t know where to put all the orders coming in!
The fake humility: Is this really me standing on the podium with an award for best newcomer? #blessed
No doubt about it, these statements rankle and tend to produce an eye-rolling smirk. But why shouldn’t we be happy for others when things go well for them? It’s probably because it’s such an odd juxtaposition – bragging and humility don’t sit well together. Which is it: proud or bashful? Perhaps a simple statement rather than a confusing cloak of false modesty would produce the response sought after (the ‘like’ button or the ‘congrats’ emoticon or a comment of approval). In the end we all just want to be liked.
It’s no doubt rooted in shame, too. We are the only primates to blush, we learn from a young age that boasting is bad and pride is a sin, and women and minorities, in particular, don’t feel as if they have permission to ‘big themselves up’ in public.
So today without fear and with a due sense of pride I’ll show off my poem (it was shortlisted you know). And please share your good news with me, I promise I won’t roll my eyes.
What is it about poetry? I’ve found myself holding onto it for dear life lately, picking up volume after volume in order to escape the fearful – and unordinary – days all around us.
Alongside a daily visit to The Emergency Poet, edited by Deborah Alma, I’m spending most mornings with Brian Bilston who has become Twitter’s unofficial poet laureate. Amanda Gorman’s spellbinding recital of ‘The Hill We Climb’ at Biden’s inauguration continues to speak of both admonishment and hope, while Margaret Atwood has a new volume out (‘Dearly: Poems’ – on my wish list). Breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper – words are food.
And so to the Twittersphere’s laureate, Brian Bilston and his Serenity Prayer. Read or listen and if a smile doesn’t creep across your face I’ll eat my hat.
John O’Donohue has become our official 2020 poet – he has so much to say about life, faith, doubt and had more than his fair share of wisdom. He has been my guide for this year of years. This is a reading of ‘At the End of the Year’ from To Bless the Space Between Us (2008).
Wishing you and yours a blessed New Year filled, most of all, with hope. 2021 – we’re counting on you!