Friday, January 13, 2012

A gift - and memories

I am fortunate in my siblings - and hope they might think so also, but I'm not going to ask.

My older sister has, over the years, given me books. One, The Maeve Binchey Writers' Club, was a very generous and thoughtful gift to this, her aspiring writer brother.

Early into the new year another arrived. And this took me back (not 'taken aback' you know, though I suppose I might have been in a way).

Back to High School, the final two years of secondary school, as I knew it growing up. It seems there's a demand that the poetry book used for those two years be republished. In the original cover, and using the original typeface.

The typeface, I must admit now, is less pleasing on the eye than I remember it. Though, at the time, I doubt I'd have known a pleasing typeface if it up and hit me in the eye. But, we learn as we grow - or so it is to be hoped.

What I remember about this book is I read it from cover to cover while at school. Anything else I did at school was the bare minimum - this book was worn out by the time I finished with it.

The editor, Augustine Martin, was a magician, able to capture the imagination of school kids - a difficult audience. Decades later, the book survives.

Part of the reason might be the selection of poets - Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickinson, Yeats and many, many more. Twenty-three, or so, in total.

Another part, the 'Explorations' after each poem - though as a student I grew to dislike them for they represented work, effort, they formed the basis of homework.  

Yet, for all that, they did give me a framework, an approach to poetry that has remained with me. However, the greatest 'exploration', advice to the reader of poetry, of the entire book arrives a little more than half-way through the book.

It is found after the first poem by Emily Dickinson included in the volume.

Here it is: 

"Having read the poem, now read all Emily Dickinson's poems in this book.  Don't feel that you have to make 'sense' of them, don't bully them in the hope they will yield up their message in a manner that can be summarised and paraphrased.  If you find that you like them, only one thing is required.  It can be best expressed by the advice the great Olympic athlete, Jesse Owens, gave to those who wish to be great long-jumpers.  His three rules were that you sprint, sprint, and finally sprint.  For the word 'sprint' we might here substitute 'read' with equal emphasis and repetition."

I can think of no better advice to anyone reading poetry. I also like, though again I didn't know of it at the time, the "Oxford comma" in the 'sprint, sprint, and finally sprint'.

Anyway, thanks to the generosity of my sister, I'm rediscovering poetry I haven't read in many a long year and, while I cannot claim that 'schooldays were the best days of my life' - how sad that would be - there are fond memories that I'm not unhappy to revisit.

On an entirely different note, above and a little to the right there is now a page dedicated to where my writings might easily be found.



  1. What a wonderful gift! That says much about a book, that you remember it after all this time. I can't think of one high school-related book that I enjoyed.
    It's funny you should mention the Oxford comma, as Tony Noland posted about that yesterday.

  2. Blogger's having problems today. I posted an answer (which isn't here) then they disabled my own blog for an hour!
    Anyway, what I think I said to you was that it was a very special gift you received.
    Also, funny that you mention the Oxford Comma, something that Tony Noland blogged about yesterday.
    Hopefully, blogger won't eat this comment as well. :)

    1. Oh neat! I can now reply to comments. It's possible it's been there for ages and I just didn't notice!

    2. No, it's brand new! Which is probably why blogger is having issues. LOL!

  3. Hi Laura - this one made it through. Yes, it was a very special gift. Thanks for the comment. I'll go check Tony's log.

  4. My brothers haven't really bought me any books that stand out, but the person who started me passion for reading and ultimately writing was my Gran. She got my brothers and I the LOTR and some of the Harry Potter books (1st editions).

    And very true about poetry, they don't always have to make sense, as long as you find something that awakens some sort of feeling inside of you.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Craig. My father was the catalyst for reading, for both my older sister and I. He turned up one day with two books (when we were quite young) and handed them to us. We read them, swapped them between one another and haven't stopped yet. Then he turned me on to poetry. That hasn't stopped either.