Monday, 17 September 2007

Inner Libraries

"I think we internalise the poems we have by heart and they operate by osmosis to influence the writers we become. I favor the iambic tetrameter line, instilled in me by James Russell Lowell and sharpened by my later infatuation with Auden. Mostly, though, I am grateful for those old-fashioned teachers who revered the poems of a bygone era and by exacting from us twenty-odd lines a week gave us an inner library to draw on for the rest of our lives."
~ Maxine Kumin

I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. My English teacher, a wonderful woman, used to give us merit points for memorising set passages. One which has remained with me is Jacques' Seven Ages of Man from As You Like It. It's actually one of my favourite Shakespeare passages now. I still know every word, seven years later, and I recite it to myself when I have to have injections or fillings in my teeth. It's incredibly effective at taking one's mind off things.

I would argue, though, that a piece doesn't have to be memorised in order to influence our writing hugely. In my early teens I was a bit of a stereotype and I carried a battered copy of Collected Poems of Sylvia Plath with me everywhere I went. Perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to say that those poems saved my life. I read those poems over and over, to the point that I have scraps memorised unintentionally, but I never set down and learnt them. And yet, they have been hugely influential.

Another poet who has influenced my writing greatly without my sitting down and memorising any of her work is Carol Ann Duffy. My favourite poem of hers is called The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High. It's rare for me to get so absorbed in such a long poem: I find that reading poetry requires immense concentration, so intense, in fact, that I can't sustain it for long and so tend to only read short poems! Stafford Girls' High is addictive, though - it carries you along. It's the rhythm especially, the same rhythm which causes me to memorise bits unintentionally. Lines like: "How do you expect to become the finest of England's mothers and daughters and wives after this morning's assembly's abysmal affair?" or "Bad words ran in her head like mice."

Ah, Duffy. Let us all pay homage, and let the little children bring flowers.

1 comment:

Dolores said...

im a big fan of the poetry. let us forget i just say that.

do you recommend yourself as a good prose writer?