When you think of poems, it’s often one of the greats whose wordplay will most readily spring to mind.
My first real brush with the power of poetry was via an unemployed plasterer, who I knew as Dad.
My father left school with no qualifications — his plan to join the Navy torpedoed by a dodgy ear — and as a child growing up, we would openly laugh at his inability to spell.
But his love of words was always there. Be it crosswords or Scrabble. Or randomly quoting a favourite lyric!
And then, in the late ’80s during a rather dire period for the house building sector he went and joined a poetry class. As you do.
And, somewhat miraculously, he was quite good at it.
Not necessarily for his flair of iambic pentameters. It was the fact he had something to say about life. And poetry gave him a platform to express himself.
As a teenage boy brought up in a very traditional working class home, the power of how poetry transformed my illiterate Dad moved me deeply.
The fact that he’d think nothing of reading them out loud, whether a political polemic against those in ivory towers or his views on football, was a revelation and you could almost hear the hidden chains bound by a fraught education dropping away.
My love for the English language was already beginning but this unexpected development was a huge catalyst, like throwing enriched fertilizer on a flower bed.
You take a lot from your parents. Your tastes in music. Football. Religion. Politics. And then you rebel!
Except, when it came to poetry. And doing it yourself.
In many ways my dad was a punk poet. He couldn’t quote any of the classical greats (he was more a fan of Lennon, Simon, Dylan, Baez, Cohen et al), but his turn of phrase was sharp and his metaphors painted magical pictures.
He also used poetry to explore and express his feelings. He didn’t need a psychiatrist. A blank piece of paper was his cathartic couch.
That’s how I approach poetry too.
As a form of literature, there are far too many walls built around poetry. I’ve studied it to degree level, so trust me, I know.
Wash away all the academic surgery of what the poet is meant to be symbolising. Poetry is a window in what it is to be human. True poetry is mood. Is hope. Is love. Is laughter. Is fear. Is anger. Is worry.
And of course, poetry is of the moment. And in the moment. It could be a sunset. An open field. A raging sea. Or a secret kiss.
What it captures. How it makes you feel.
Reading poetry is great and the lyrical twists that makes your tongue, mind and soul jump all over the place is one of life’s pure pleasures.
For children, it’s a fantastic front door into unlocking their imagination.
But writing poetry is much more rewarding.
An unemployed (highly skilled) plasterer taught me that. At the school of life.
Fortunately for me, he had a masters in that field.
(In memory of Stephen Doran — 1949–2006)
Here is a poem by a plasterer’s son…
Cast me to a whispering wind From a peak of brilliant views When a blazing sun begins to set Upon a purple sky of velvet hues.
Send me back in time When mountains could be bounded So I can hear again How the innocence of laughter sounded.
Let me taste the sweet fury Of the hope that fuelled my youth Let me bathe in all the glory Of its beautiful naked truth.
Let me dance in honeyed shadows Let me glide on jewelled streams Let me waltz in magic symphony In the valleys of my dreams.
Let me skim across the lakes Let me swim within their waves Let me rest upon their shores In endless peaceful ways.
Cast me to a sweetened wind Let me soar as eagles do To ride unseen thermals And trace across the eternal blue.