People who don’t like poetry often think of poets as airy-fairy sort of writers with their heads in the clouds, and little in common with ‘normal’ folk. This is so untrue; most poets walk among the crowds of others, and its only their dreams and visions which they fashion into their work which distinguishes them from the rest of us… maybe we are all actually poets, some of us just don’t realise it!
When I was teaching, many of my students (15-16 year-olds, excluded from school and being taught in a discrete unit) announced in their first English lesson, that they hated poetry and it was c**p, s**t and worse. However, when I asked them, a surprising number wrote poetry themselves and many also wrote songs. I chose poems which I thought would strike a chord with them, and my poetry lessons were the most successful and most enjoyed. Their particular favourites were Martín Espada, Jon Lomas, Carol Ann Duffy, Patrick McDonogh and Gillian Clarke.
Going back to poets and what sort of people they are… they are every sort of person, including my tough students! John Masefield was an ordinary man, but a very gifted man; as a youth he was orphaned then sent to sea as a boy on a training ship. However it was when he was serving on a ship going to Chile that he became badly seasick, then once he arrived, suffered severe sun-stroke and was sent to hospital. He returned to England, but not deterred by the experience, he set sail on a windjammer to New York. Life was tough for him while he was there and at times he was homeless and lived as a vagrant. He managed to get a job in a carpet factory, working terribly long hours in poor conditions.
He eventually returned to England, determined to be a poet… he met his wife, they had two children… and he went on to become not only the Poet laureate, but the country’s favourite poet.
This sonnet has such a modern feel; it has a sort of sci-fi-fantasy touch, the idea of the essence of a person shaking off their corporal self and wandering space…
It may be so with us, that in the dark,
When we have done with Time and wander Space,
Some meeting of the blind may strike a spark,
And to Death’s empty mansion give a grace.
It may be, that the loosened soul may find
Some new delight of living without limbs,
Bodiless joy of flesh-untrammelled mind,
Peace like a sky where starlike spirit swims.
It may be, that the million cells of sense,
Loosed from their seventy years’ adhesion, pass
Each to some joy of changed experience,
Weight in the earth or glory in the grass;
It may be that we cease; we cannot tell.
Even if we cease life is a miracle.
John Masefield 1878-1967