Archives for posts with tag: books from childhood

Scale (PSF)
The beam of a true poem balances
when each pan hovers
with just right the weight.
A real poem contains rhyme;
Each line leads us to a prediction.


When I was at junior school, it was the end-of-term duty of the girls in the highest class, Standard 5, to gather news from each year. These reports were compiled in rhyming couplet form:

As we close the door to Sub A,
it’s to the next classroom we stray.
So now enter the class of the Sub B’s,
where this term they’ve been busy as bees.

It was often as stilted as that; after all the authors were twelve-year-olds, most of whom had had little exposure to rhyming odes themselves. These reports together with the school song, national anthem and hymns we were obliged to sing in assembly were among the early influences of rhyming English in my life. Before I went to school there was rhyme at home. This was fun and storytelling rhyme that shaped Rupert-the-Bear adventures, Ahlberg’s classic “Each, Peach, Pear, Plum” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. By the time I heard these and other rhyming songs and stories related to my younger sister, I was already reading long-form prose. Her educational video sang on a loop, “Five little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away…” and. I was reading ‘grown-up’ books. Rhyme was little kids’ stuff.

Consequently, rhyme struck me as something twee and childish. It was used to round off pairs of ideas – whether ideology or fun nonsense – so that they would stick in your mind. When I discovered that poetry could exist legitimately without rhyme, I was hooked, though initially, more to reading this sort of poetry than writing it. I loved non-rhyming poetry so much that I thought, I must be a child of modernism’s sentiment. Rhyme seemed to constrict words’ directions, and a sad fate simply because words found themselves slotted into the line of a poem.

Playing with rhythm and meter, musicality and lilt, alliteration and soundscapes enticed my ear and imagination. Yet it is still those predictable lines ribboned together by rhyme that tumble from my memory all these years later: “Success is cheering words of praise, in cheering other people’s ways; in doing just the best you can in every task and every plan”.

More recently I’ve reconciled with rhyme and now deliberately expose myself to old hymns (with wondrous words like ‘eyelids’ and ‘slander’). But I’m still not convinced that Proper Poetry has to rhyme in words. There are surely other tools that craft an idea worth remembering.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

‘Tis the night before
I head off to find Christmas.
with an inflatable bed
and homemade biscuits.

All through this lodging
there is hardly a clatter;
only Depeche Mode on my laptop
and my landlady’s patter.

To the front door she shuffles
and hooks up the chain.
Yesterday’s outside,
while we’re bolted in.

22/12/13

My paternal grandparents had a beautifully illustrated copy of The Night before Christmas published by Little Golden Books. To me those pages smelt of sweeter Christmases in the past where children ate candy-canes and hung up stockings over a fireplace. This was the same Christmas of The Nutcracker’s Sugar Plum Fairy, so it is not surprising that sweetness filled the nose and tempted the taste-buds. Magically, unlike the other books in the dust-coated shelves, it did not smell musty. The paper itself was sturdy and even in those days, to my childish eyes the illustrations had an old-fashioned look about them.

I’m sure my father read the long poem to us. It’s his voice, with a little added theatricality, that I hear when I recall the famous opening lines:

Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house
not a creature was stirring not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung from the chimney with care
in the hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The atmosphere of expectancy and magic built up at the poem’s opening inspired my musings on this quiet evening. With gifts wrapped, cards distributed, Christmas baking done, bags packed, and now even the front door bolted, it seems that all that there is left for me to do is board my train at Euston tomorrow.

The second part of The Night before Christmas bounds with abundance and jollity. With St Nick and the reindeer enters a quicker pace and the energy of the festival. It is that part of the holiday to which I’ll be travelling. However, here in the quiet before the fracas, here I write next week’s posts at my desk, muesli consumed and coffee at hand.

“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

I’ll be quiet on Facebook and Twitter over this festive season, but I’d be delighted if you’d look me up:

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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