I've already mentioned once or twice that I've not been best friends with poetry this year. You hear all this stuff about poetry helping in hard times but this year, with my Mum dying and all that, I have found other people's poetry mostly really hard-going in all honesty. Maybe it's a childish reaction ('why are none of these people writing about my marvellous mother? Idiots!'), maybe my head is just too full of other stuff to take in other people's complicated thought patterns and rhythms just now... but whatever it is I'm afraid I've just been finding reading other people's poetry a bit of a drag in the last six months or so (listening to it though, interestingly, I've found much more bearable, stimulating and pleasurable... I am a sound person, it seems, but maybe we knew that already...).
Anyway, in a bid to reignite some love for reading poetry I dug out my old file of 'other people's poems that I like' earlier this week. I started compiling it over ten years ago and mainly it contains things photocopied from library books and such like (these days I am more likely to buy the books - partly because I have more money, maybe because I have more inclination...). The file has plenty of Larkin, some Roger McGough, some Liz Lochhead... but many more besides - all kinds of poems by all kinds of writers really. Some are by people with well known names (poetry-wise) and many are not and I'd have to say that that's pretty much the way I like it. I really don't feel that a well-known name means that much in poetry (not to me anyway...). Sure I can admire a Ted Hughes poem (for example) but do I really think his work is so superior to a million minor/obscure poets? No. I don't. So much poetic success is to do with right place, right time, right amount of application... I think. I really do believe that most of us have at least one good poem in us (and more than that if we work hard at it). We like to hype people up (it's just how we work somehow...'the best Scottish poet', 'the Nobel Prize winner' etc.) but if we strip away the hype I don't believe there is such a big difference between the skills and abilities of poets from all over the success spectrum. And I know there are poets and poetry fans who would disagree strongly with all that! Some would have me sent to the poetry gallows for such heresy!
Somewhere in my file I came across a poem I'd copied from an anthology ('Anvil New Poets 2' 1995 – ed. Carol Ann Duffy). I hardly remember the book now but I can remember why I liked this poem enough to put it in the file. The poet's name wasn't known to me at all and yet still I liked these words – very much. See what you think:
When My Ship Comes In
At last it was on the horizon, a big three-islander, and it was coming in.
I waited on the sand with the sandflies pricking my ankles. I smiled. My ship.
Still it came, but as it came somehow it wasn't getting any bigger.
Perhaps it had stopped. No, I can see it clearer now, rigging and wash.
I could almost make out the captain, red in the face from sun and yelling.
I waited, and still it came, clearer, frothing at the bow, getting no bigger.
I had only to wait, so I waited, and my ship came in, shrinking and shrinking.
The tide washed it right up to my feet. I picked it up. Shook the sea out.
Held it to my ear to hear the captain's hello. Listened hard. No hello. No captain.
Carefully I returned it to the sea and shoved it off and watched it leave.
Slow at first, and then full ahead, making a coot's wake, a swan's wake,
ship's wake, ship's wake, and soon it was miles away, growing as it went.
by Mike Venner
'Anvil New Poets 2' 1995 is still available by the way (here). It costs £8.95 and other poets in the anthology include Alice Oswald and Kate Clanchy (middling to huge names in English poetry).
I tracked Mike Venner down online and quickly realised that some of you may already know him as he lives in Ireland and is one of the owners of Dingle Bookshop. The shop produces poetry postcards and some of these feature Mike's poems (including 'When My Ship Comes In'). Coincidentally blogger and irregular Poetry Bus rider Pure Fiction sent me some of these cards earlier this year (small world...). Mike also writes plays and is writer-in-residence for Beehive Theatre Company. I did get Mike's permission to reproduce this poem. Cheers Mike!
Hope you enjoy the poem and I'll be back for the Halloween Poetry Bus (driven by Liz 'the ghost' Gallagher) at the weekend. I'll be wearing a truly terrifying costume. You have been warned.
Originally from the north of England, I live in Angus, Scotland where I walk a lot, think a lot, listen to lots of music, sometimes write poems, sometimes read poems out to other people, sometimes write songs, read all kinds of odd things, watch a bit...oh and I look after my family too.
I sometimes organise poetry and music events - details are usually here (though nothing coming up in the near future). This year I went travelling with my family - photos and notes are here. Now we're back I have moved to a new regular blog - it is here.
More about the song
You can buy my book (published 2008) from my website if you fancy it (go to 'book' page) or from www.amazon.co.uk if you prefer the comfort of the multinational corporation. My book is printed on recycled paper and card. I have 12 different poetry postcards available too.