Once I'd finished my undergraduate dissertation on poetry I held my hands up and declared 'no more'. For four months my daily goal had been to dissect poetry from several masters of the form: T.S Eliot, W.B Yeats and Thomas Hardy amongst them. I was sick to death of poetry, I thought, and I'd let the books fester on my shelves for a respectable period before they mysteriously found themselves in the recycling bin. Then, when my father asked me what I wanted for my birthday (my 21st) I surprised the both of us by asking for the complete poems of Christina Rossetti. He was a little dubious - he wanted something that wouldn't depress me to hell to remind me of the milestone - but in the end we compromised on a bracelet and the book. I read the book more than I wear the bracelet.
The thing about poetry is that you either love it or hate it. Lots of very talented fiction writers see it as a lesser form because of its comparative length but, in truth, poetry is exceptionally difficult. I think the reason some novelists and short story writers abhor the poetic form is because it scares them to death.
I don't profess to write poetry. But I am an avid reader. I got to thinking about my favourite poet, Charlotte Mew (the one my dissertation was based around), and why I liked her so much.
First off, there are biographical attractions. Native of the Isle of Wight; closested lesbian; fearful of the heriditary insanity that hung around her family like a black cloud; finally committed suicide in the face of that madness: she was an interesting person whose poetical works were admired by poets such Hardy, Siegfried Sassoon and Virginia Woolf.
But, more than the allure of a repressed Victorian woman, there's the poetry itself. I have two favourite poems written by Mew. 'The Trees Are Down' and 'Rooms', which is transcribed below.
I remember rooms that have had their part
In the steady slowing down of the heart.
The room in Paris, the room at Geneva,
The little damp room with the seaweed smell,
And that ceaseless maddening sound of the tide -
Rooms where for good or ill - things died.
But there is this room where we two lie dead,
Though every morning we seem to wake and might just as well seem to sleep again
As we shall somewhere in the other quieter, dustier bed
Out there in the sun - in the rain.
It remains the only poem I can recite - and I recite it to myself fairly often. Whether it reminds me of the fruitlessness of life (and so not to get too worked up when things don't go as planned), or whether I use it as a stimulant to change something in my life I'm unhappy with, it's a friend in times of need. I've got other favourite poems, even modern ones, but this is the only one that touches me each time I read it.
So what does that say about me, I wonder?
For more information about Charlotte Mew visit: http://studymore.org.uk/ymew.htm