Initiation

My first experiences of poetry happened early in childhood.  My maternal grandfather wrote a poem for me each year to commemorate my birthday.  It would be penned carefully on the back of his birthday card.  I am sad today that I did not keep these special tokens of his love.

My first poetry book was A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson.  A beautiful blue leather bound copy with gilded page edges was presented to me at Primary School as an Attainment Prize.  I was nine years old.  Again it reinforced the idea that poetry was something precious.  I began to write my own poems.  I recall a gem that began with the lines, “I was playing in the dairy/when I first saw the fairy”!

At the age of sixteen I was initiated into contemporary poetry (together with sex) by my Glaswegian boyfriend.  He introduced me to the music and poems of Leonard Cohen.  As a Christmas present he bought me a little book of his poetry and I still have the battered copy on my bookshelf.  Cohen’s poetry is often overlooked as he is best known for his songs.  I like his short poems which seem to have a mysterious  double meaning.  Here is one of my favourites called I Heard of a Man:-

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb stairs and clear his throat outside the door.

 

I read Cohen’s romantic and political poems over and over again, learning some of them by heart.  At the time I had no idea poetry would become such a vital element of my life as it is now.  For me, poetry is therapeutic but more importantly, a way to communicate difficult emotions and experiences to others.

What were your first tastes of poetry?  Were they positive or negative?  Did you learn poems by rote in the classroom?  Or did your parents read to you?  Do you remember your first ever poetry book?  I would love to hear how you were initiated into the wonderful world of poetry.

 

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And here is a YouTube video of Leonard Cohen singing one of his most famous and poetic songs:-

Autograph Book

Where are U
Gerard Duvall?
2 cute 2 B
4 gotten.

Leather coat,
groovy French name,
eyes cool as mud,
auburn mane.

In teenage shade
U left your cabbage
heart 4 me,
white as paper.

27
frozen kisses,
star-crossed
in my book.

I counted
empty pages
awaiting
butterflies.

 

Note:- Before the age of Facebook and digital ‘likes’ adolescents used autograph books with pastel colored pages to collect signatures and messages from their friends.  These often included humorous rhymes.

 

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Original Photograph- The Seeds of Love, created by the author.

 

Wallflower

My lady waits in the wall
papered over by skeletal hands.
She withers lilies with one eye
and blue ivy winds her hair.
Her holy cheeks crumble
like old plaster of Paris
but not her secret vows.
Restless but unseen, she stirs
death to do our parting.

 

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Artwork by the author, collage, acrylic and household paint on canvas

Burlesque

She waits alone on a purple stage, cut
-out flat, white and black, lacking
a dimension. She waits for shape,
for music, for lightening to spark a pulse.
Her icy skin trussed in silk and lace,
satin pumps on lifeless feet.
There’s a feather in her hair,
twisted into careful curls. She’s cold
on center stage. Acid whispers
in the wings like sour dough rising.
Her fan flairs and she begins to dance.

 

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Artwork (collage and household paint on canvas) by the author.