Mew and Cry

Like a lot of people, I struggle to retain poetry. While writers like Simon Armitage are retelling epic poems, those that we most commonly encounter recall a single scene or a feeling, a thought or sensation, and there isn’t a full narrative that we can take away and discuss over dinner with friends in the way we’ll discuss novels and plays.

My children loved Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat who went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat, and can still quote it, but the other poems we used to read are long forgotten. It’s no coincidence that my own favourite has always been The Farmer’s Bride by Charlotte Mew. Like Lear, she tells a story, though that is the only characteristic the two writers have in common!

Creating a library of poems for Tricycle Readers (we will analyse one short story and one poem each week) has been a revelation. I go back to the same pieces time and again and the closer I look, and the more I say the words aloud, the more I understand and retain them. It’s like prising open an oyster shell very gently and agitating the mollusc in order to release its pearl.

This week, Tricycle Readers went live and there’s been a surge of interest, which is very exciting. The first group members have signed up and we have just a handful of places left. I’m guessing many of the group will be, like me, ambivalent about poetry, and I’m hoping that  they, like me, will be surprised by the power of the writing when put under a microscope. If you have any poems you’d recommend, please email or add them here. owl_and_pussycat

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10 comments

  1. Thank you for this, Shyama.

    You sent me scurrying to the Collected Larkin which Sprog 2 gave me to commemorate a frankly moving rendition of The Whitsun Weddings which I gave at his nuptials.

    I always rather liked An Arundel Tomb. Especially the more of uncertainty subverting the beautiful cliche of the last line.

    But my recommendation would be Auden: Leap Before You Look. Ah, the piquancy of the doomed end of love! And let’s not forget that it was used by Russell Hoban in The Mouse and his Child. And Russell Hoban is God a particular favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bums.

    For”more” read “note”.

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  3. Peter Hall · · Reply

    I have always consider In Westminster Abbey by Betjeman,as my favourite poem. Whilst some of the language may jar-it’s a piece that is radical in its view of society

    http://www.poetryconnection.net/poets/John_Betjeman/16967

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  4. I didn’t really get the sense of story in The Farmer’s Wife: More of a bleak, beautiful tableau of a marriage ruined.

    I find simply telling a story on a poem is such an achievement, you rarely get the emotional impact that you get from a concept poem. I guess the Within Weddings is a story of sorts.

    I have a weakness for Kipling’s early doggerel. A code of morals is a nice one. With a groan worthy pun in the title. Who can resist?

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    1. Though on mature reflection, one of Kipling’s great virtues is his absolute clarity. He doesn’t leave many clever subtleties for the thinking reader to work away at.

      You could talk about the technique, I suppose. Which lines raise the hairs on the back of your neck? Why?

      I suspect necks may differ in this respect. Which might in itself be interesting. But not in the spirit of the Tricycle invitation.

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      1. Perhaps, much of Kipling’s clarity is due to context and how much of his work was new to the reader.
        I suspect much of his work is more accessible i.e understandable , than it was when written

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Interesting thought, Peter.

        I had assumed without really thinking that it is more in tune with the zeitgeist of the time, and therefore more accessible to his contemporary readers. Whereas of course, like him or loath him, we have had him as a distant companion for our entire lives.

        The amount of polishing he did must have something to do with it. There’s always a role for sheer craftsmanship.

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  5. I hadn’t read In Westminster Abbey, Peter. Thank you. I do like a little right on cynicism. Especially if it was written before it became fashionable. And even if not, this is beautifully balanced and flighted.

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  6. Peter Hall · · Reply

    Thanks for the comment. Betjeman is superb at writing in the persona of others-using this example, it’s hard to identify his real thoughts about the war. As a committed Christian there would have been tension. The irony he displays is very cutting -this is not a gentle poem.
    Ps- another vote for Kipling, Shyama.

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  7. Peter Hall · · Reply

    A quick scoot around Google indicates it was written in 1940

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