Keiara Reads Poetry: A review of my first attempt at reading a full poetry book

Why poetry?

My decision to start reading poetry was a fairly random affair, inspired by nothing more than I happened to walk past the Scottish Poetry Library after work one day while heading to Starbucks for a coffee treat sometime last year. I never made it to Starbucks but I don’t think I missed much, I’d been looking to relax after a stressful day at work and the library was so much better for this than caffeine could ever be. It is a wonderful, tucked away little specialist library, down a side street of Canongate (part of the Royal Mile here in Edinburgh). I fell in love with it as soon as I walked in the door, and that is genuinely the only reason I decided to take up reading poetry. I would strongly encourage anyone looking to start reading poetry in the Edinburgh area to check out the  Scottish Poetry Library .

I love how pretty my member card is

I had some, small experiences of poetry in the past, outlined in my previous post: A Few more facts about me and reading. In 2016, my attempt to take up reading some poetry did not go too well and I did not finish any of the books that I had initially taken from the library. I made a few attempts with a few different poets or subject based anthologies but nothing seemed to really grab me. This may be due to the random means by which I selected my books, just going in and grabbing a few by poets I had maybe heard of in passing, or on subjects I had a vague interest in (one book I picked up was all on space poems).

I am Pagan, by religious choice, and therefore see the end of October as the beginning of a New Year cycle. It is a time for preparing for the cold months ahead, where traditionally people stay indoors all cosy and warm, protected against the cold dark weather of the season. I therefore took the opportunity to try something new that gives me a great excuse to curl up in my favourite chair with a hot chocolate and some beautiful imagery, word play etc.. Initially I fell into the same trap as previously, just randomly picking up books with no real knowledge of what the point of the work was intended to be.

The staff at the Scottish Poetry Library are very friendly, super helpful, and best of all passionate about what they do. When I mentioned to one of the ladies who volunteered there that I was trying to take up reading poetry purely for my own enjoyment but was struggling to find an accessible starting point, she introduced me to the Novel approach to selecting poetry. It may sound obvious but this is basically picking poetry based in novels you enjoy. As I am a sci-fi fan she directed me to a book by Claire Askew; This Changes Things. She also suggested Mary Oliver to me as this was one of her personal ‘beginner poets’. This gave me three books to try which I have yet to read in their entirety. Firstly I wanted to read one of the books that had been my own random choice, Bright Wings; An illustrated anthology of poems about birds, edited together by Billy Collins (some of whose poems are contained within the work). Since reading this book I have also printed some documents available through SPL to help get the most out of my poetry reading adventure. I am likely to use the document on reading a poem anthology to shape the upcoming review.

Review: Bright Wings: An illustrated anthology of poems about birds.

I picked up this anthology due to a long-time love of birds. l love to watch documentaries on birds. David Attenborough’s Life of Birds is a personal favourite and I hope to read the accompanying book in the near future. This made it seems like a good choice for a second attempt at reading poetry for me. The beautiful paintings within the book served to seal the deal and so I read the book from cover to cover. There were a few poems which were quite lengthy and didn’t grab my attention, so I stopped reading and skipped over them. The point of this venture is to enjoy what I was reading and so it seemed a poor idea to ‘slug through’ the less enjoyable ones. Overall I enjoyed this book despite a few bumps in the road. As there were over 100 poems within the book I will not go into detail on too many of them but there are some comments I would like to make.

Bright Wings is as much an art book as it was a poetry book. As stated above the poems were selected and edited together by Billy Collins. I unfortunately do not know much about Collins’ work as I am new to the world of poetry (find more information about him here ) but I thoroughly enjoyed his choice of structure here. The poems within the work are grouped together to compliment the pictures which accompany them. This means that they tend to be grouped according to species of bird. This seems like it would be a good way to draw in more avid bird lovers than myself. Anyone with a particular favourite, such as the blue-footed booby, could elect to start with poems about this bird, or save them until last.  The paintings recreated within this book are the work of David Allen Sibley and I found these to be beyond beautiful in form and detail.

I love these pretty little birdies

The aesthetic pleasure from this book was as important to me as the literary pleasure I got from the poems, sometimes I would find myself staring at the pictures for longer than I took to read some of the poems. To combine the beauty of tangible images with those created by some stirring poetry was a very smart idea.

There was one poem in particular where I was entertained by the way in which the poem had been laid out, this was “Swan and Shadow” by John Hollander.

There is an obvious calligram (yes, I had to Google this) style to the poem which compliments the subject matter. With this exception, stylistic choices on how to structure a poem still mean little to me. I am trying to gain more technical knowledge about poetry in general to increase my appreciation of the art form but I am a long way from understanding which structures are accidental and which are complimentary to a style or a subject matter.

Within the anthology I enjoyed numerous pieces, some of which I felt enough of a connection with to mark for later reference. I was overjoyed to find such a fun use for my back stock of university stationery. Admittedly I am a bit of a stationery addict, I can’t resist handy/cute stationery even when I know I have no immediate use for them. A sub-objective of my new project to become a regular blogger is to use up some of this stationery (to make room for more, let’s not get crazy and say I’ll get rid of the pile!)

I have an obsession with sticky notes and index tabs

Back to poetry books. As I said some poems were noteworthy to me either because I liked how they read to me or the images created by them.  The anthology contains work from contemporary back to the 19th century. None of the poems have dates which for me personally was a bit of a drawback, as being able to put the work into some historical context may have helped my understanding of the pieces I struggled with. The poems I enjoyed tended to involve simple rhyming schemes, as I mostly have a fondness for writing couplets. This may be due to the fact that the poems I read in childhood tended to contain these and therefore this is what I think of when I hear the word poem. I also find the flow of these poems more enjoyable as it creates a relaxing melodic atmosphere for me when I read them. Another feature I enjoy is verses that end with a full stop (or a period). It may seem like a silly preference to have but I just like the division between verses. Again, for me it makes a poem flow nicely and fits in with my lay-person’s definition of a poem.

This work was a great start for me in my journey into the world of poetry, I actually took a trip to the Scottish poetry library to perpetuate this venture. Although this time I didn’t look for any, I hope to find some work by Billy Collins as I enjoyed his poem Christmas Sparrow within the book and would like to see what else he has to offer. I may purchase this book in future and would recommend it to anyone who already enjoys poetry or to someone with an interest in ornithology, although it’s perhaps not the greatest book for beginners (as I found out along the way). I will perhaps try to re-read some of the poems once I have acquired more technical knowledge and appreciation for the art form.

Thank you to anyone who has made it this far, I am weirdly proud that I managed to add photos to this. It would be incredible if anyone were to leave a comment, perhaps with some tips on how I should continue. My current plan is to introduce a mid-week post perhaps similar to my first two, kind of like a preview of what review will be coming up and why. Please let me know if you think this is a good or terrible idea. I will hopefully post my next review next Sunday. Not sure what it will be yet so it will be a surprise for everyone.






Advertisements Share this:
  • More
Like this:Like Loading... Related