Poetry saves my bacon by Sandra Horn


Long years ago, we were at a party and there was a comical-but-irritating man, like someone out of The Fast Show or Monty Python, who kept butting into conversations, saying ‘I wrote a poem about that,’ no matter what the topic was. I may be turning into him, although I don’t go around interrupting people about it. I’m just finding more and more things to poetify. Why? Perhaps my age has something to do with it (think trombones leading A Big Parade).

 Old Age

I saw you from a distance in those days

The days of carefree, self-regarding youth

The days when ‘how I want it’ stood for truth

Your world unfocussed in my shortened gaze


What were false teeth, what walking sticks, grey hair?

What was a ‘span’ of three-score years and ten?

Beyond a fleeting frisson now and then

Your presence was ignored: not my affair.


But since I have long passed the given span

My vision is corrected, no short sight

Can help me to avoid your company

You’re here now. First you crawled and then you ran

Swift as a well-fletched arrow in its flight

 I’m caught and you will have your way with me


Now there’s an increasing need to capture a memory, a moment, an incident, a thought and to create something from it. To get hold of something that’s too big, too transient, too frightening, too overwhelming, and transform it into words, get it on the page. It’s odd, because while the act of writing makes whateveritis somehow manageable, as if it has shrunk, it can also give it a special kind of life; the transformation both shrinks and magnifies it. I have it, quivering, in my grasp. There’s too much world out there, which makes a need to catch at least some parts of it and bring them safely home. I don’t know how many sheep there are on the planet, but the thought of them all together at once is impossible. Shearing, carding, spinning, dyeing, skeining, though, and there’s something knittable. It’s a bit like that, this urge to make things into poetry. OK, so the metaphors are getting a bit tangled…


I’m stung into writing this after a conversation I had yesterday with a dear friend. Not for the first time, she said, ‘I don’t like poetry; I don’t ‘get’ poetry. Why can’t they just say it like it is?’ There is no arguing with her, but I am sad that she has cut herself off from so much power, so much joy. I do not know where I’d be without reading poetry, writing it - trying to tell it as I want it to be or hope it might be, or to celebrate or memorialise something, someone, in words chosen with  as much thought and care as I can muster – the work of the mind on what might otherwise be chaos.


Example: I had a somewhat troubled relationship with my Dad. There were things I didn’t know about him, and wish, desperately, that I had, until after he died. Struggling those things and my feelings about them into words has, at least, stopped them flying round manically inside my head.  They have become a series of poems, most not to be shared, but the latest – and perhaps the last – is about the rowan tree I planted over his ashes: 


I can only see you in my mind’s eye; hope is all I have.

Hope that you took root, grew tall, are berried now,

a feast for the wild birds he loved; blackbird in the branches,

pheasant on the ground; that sunlight

casts your rippled shadow on the ghyll,

where fox and badger drink; that you have drawn

his essence from the ash that once was him,

transformed it into soaring trunk and branch,

flower in spring, burgeoning leaf. That by your grace

he’s free, part of the wider universe,

at peace now, healed.


I don’t know how it would stand up to analysis as a poem by those who know about these things. It has served its purpose for me. I have sometimes told people in poetry workshops that there is no such thing as a bad poem if it says what you wanted it to say. This is only true if it is not meant to be shared, but is only to satisfy one’s own need. Once it’s out there in the world, everything changes. The irritating/comic man at the party just wanted us to know that he had crafted something from the swirling chaotic mass of things around him and in him; that such a thing is possible, is poetry. 





Susan Price said…
Two beautiful poems, Sandra. Thank you.
As for, 'Why can't they just say it as it is?' -- I think a good poem 'says it as it is' more clearly and vividly than anything else. It can often say the things that can't be said.
Nicky said…
Lovely. moving poems, Sandra. I miss writing poetry but the urge has died. I am so glad it is such a vibrant force in your life.
Jan Needle said…
A very fine piece, Sandra, thank you. I've never tried to write poetry myself, but I think about it a lot. What is"good" and"bad" is part of the fascination. I "studied" the Waste Land at university and it left me less than cold. Then I fell into the poems of Thomas Hardy and was forever hooked. So is one of them better than the other – and if so what are the criteria?
Peter Leyland said…
Very good Sandra. I especially like that first poem about ageing. How very true. I just love poetry for what can't be said in any other way. I've been sharing poems with a group on Zoom every Thursday. We read Charles Causley 'I had not thought it would be like this' last time. I could not get it out of my mind. Thanks for your blog.
Ruth Leigh said…
As Wordsworth said, "poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility." I often find that something flying around in my head is made sense of, reduced almost by writing a poem about it. Thank you for sharing two such powerful and personal pieces with us.
Bill Kirton said…
The comments make it clear what a lovely, powerful piece this is, Sandra, and how beautiful the poems are. I bleat on about (and believe in) the importance of rhythm in writing of all sorts, but, while I aspire to writing poetry, I can't. However, there's no doubt that my favourite quotations and pieces all qualify as poetry in some way. I love being in a world which has 'the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun'. Thank you.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Sandra, both your poems touched me emotionally and intellectually.

That's what I expect from poetry, even when I don't understand each and every word/line/stanza.

Thank you for sharing your talent,

Sandra Horn said…
Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, dear people!

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