I am nothing more, and possibly less than, a poetry novice. I had always shied away from poetry apart from when we were forced – and yes that’s how I felt whilst there – to study it during GCSE English Literature classes. I never really understood them, and lacking confidence in my analysing abilities, something I believed was crucial to understanding and enjoying the medium, I shied away and made peace with my never being one of those readers who quote poetry (or prose, but that may be a separate post).
When I first discovered Neil Hilborn it was through a video circulating, around Facebook, of a recital of his poem ‘OCD’. It was stunning, the power and the raw emotion in his voice was incredible, and the words left me in tears. I then searched out more of his poems; luckily there are a lot on the Youtube channel Button Poetry, also the publisher of the poetry collection ‘Our Numbered Days’ that I was very excited to find in Waterstones.
Before cracking the spine – figuratively, as far as I can help it, it’s never literally – I took to Twitter and, confirming my unease about poetry, asked how I should approach the collection. Are they best read as one would read a novel, turning the page until the end of the book or until the end of available free time? Is it best approached as each poem takes my fancy, skipping back and forth until I have completed the collection? Should there be gaps in between – one a day – with time to digest and think about each poem before delving into the next? As transpired, and as I suspected, there was no right answer. So, I read ‘OCD’ first and then went back to the beginning and read one after the other, from start to finish. It’s a short collection, 72 pages total, and I had traveled from front to back cover in less than an hour.
Everyone reads in their own way and at their own speed. I know and love this, but I felt embarrassed. I felt embarrassed that my Goodreads would show that this book changed its status from ‘reading’ to ‘read’ in little more than an hour. I was embarrassed (and frustrated) that I couldn’t find anything more than the words placed on the page. They were amazing words, heartfelt and beautiful but they were all I saw; entirely, I hasten to add through my own faults? Lack of skills? Inexperience? So, to cover my embarrassment I waited a few days before sending ‘Our Numbered Days’ to the ‘read’ shelf with 3 stars.
What am I wondering is why did I feel as though I had to fabricate a different experience? I have no problem with reading a book in a day and publicising that fact through Goodreads, in fact, I feel a little proud if I manage to finish one book and start another in a day. So why did I feel so vehemently the opposite about this, the first and only poetry book, on my shelves? Is it because it is seen as a higher art form? Is this a continuation of my hang-ups surrounding my lack of analytical skills or enthusiasm about Literature, which also continues to be seen as more important? I don’t know.
Amongst all that I am maybe unsure about, of this I am certain: Neil Hilborn is very talented his poems are incredible, significant and are well worth a read or listen. Just because it may be that my preferred method is through spoken word, that fact does not change in the slightest.
How do you read poetry? Do you like Poetry? Have you ever had the same concerns as me? Let me know the answers to these, or anything else you want to share, in the comments below?
When I was an undergrad I thought I didn’t really ‘get’ poetry properly – I think the fact that school tends to ignore a lot of modern poets doesn’t help. I really started enjoying poetry when I got an anthology called Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley, which introduced me to sooo many poets I’d never heard of and lots of whom I loved. Anthologies are great for figuring out what you like!
I love spoken word as well! My recommendations are Rhiannon McGavin and Hollie McNish. Very different but both brilliant. Also Jen Campbell has a great poetry playlist on YouTube – some videos talking about how to approach poetry, which are fab. Her own poems are fantastic – I especially love ‘There’s That Story.’ and ‘Hello, Dark.’
I know exactly what you mean about feeling like you’ve read too quickly with poetry, but I think it’s a really interesting thing. Everyone can choose what pace they read at, far more than with prose. I read Wendy Cope’s ‘Serious Concerns’ last year really quickly, whereas with Yehuda Amichai I tend to linger over one poem for ages – when I first read his poem ‘The Diameter of the Bomb’ I went back to it over and over for months because I couldn’t get it out of my head. It depends on the reader and on the poem, which I find really exciting.
Great post, interested to hear about any of your further adventures into poetry! x
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You know what’s really crazy… I literally just discovered Neil today randomly watching videos on Facebook. I, personally, love poetry. i write poetry, i read poetry but I will admit I’m insecure at times about dissecting poems. I don’t always come to the same conclusions as what the writer intended or a class claimed but I think that’s the beauty of poetry, a lot like music lyrics, you can interpret it anyway you heart desires because all that matters is what it made you feel.
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