I Love It When Poetry Comes Alive

I love it when poetry comes alive.  That is not to say that it doesn’t come alive when I read a good poem.  But when it can be discussed, when views are exchanged – that’s when I feel poetry really leaping off the page.

I’ve been reading and writing poetry for the past four years, but I felt it really come alive when I attended the opening rounds of Cheltenham Literature Festival’s Poetry Slam last October.  For anyone who thinks they dislike poetry, I urge you to go to a poetry slam.  If you tell me afterwards that you weren’t captivated, I’ll refund the price of your ticket myself.

In an attempt to stay up to date with contemporary poetry, I’ve had a subscription with Poetry Review since the beginning of the year.  Being relatively new to the poetry scene, I never expect to know many names.  However, that never stops me scanning its contents page in the hope that I recognise one or two more names than I did last time around. 

My eyes were drawn to a couple of poets: Owen Sheers and Matthew Sweeney, two very well-established poets (Sweeney’s A History of Glassblowing, which won second prize in the National Poetry Competition, is one of my favourites), but all the other names on this first page of contents were new to me.  However, upon turning to Page 4, I was delighted to find a name not only did I recognise, but whom I knew personally.  I was astonished. 

I’ve only ever known one other poet in my entire life and this was one of them!    

Simon Royall should take a bow for his incredibly tender poem, Putting on My Shirt.

In the dark, I can still find each button
and so dress by the bed without waking you.
I find them like the stops of an accordion,
my fingers pressing silently, practising,
feigning musicianship to themselves,
since I never learned to play and moreover
in my own hands I am collapsed, silent,
folded all day, my full-bellowed length
kept compact – no tune getting through
my clumsy fingering.  Only once I’m back
does instrument find musician,
do I commend to you each button.

This should give you a very good idea as to the sort of power that poetry can possess.  The poem has at once a distinctive voice and a lightness of touch - two essential tools of the writing trade that, more often than not, alludes me.  The poem is written to Simon's lover, a technique  that, when done well, as it is here, makes for a more personal experience for both writer and reader.  It reminds me of the poems found in Rapture, Carol Ann Duffy’s T.S. Eliot prize-winning collection.  To many, Duffy was the angry poet you were made to read as part of the GCSE syllabus.  Unsurprisingly, there's more to our current Poet Laureate  than Mrs Havisham and the rings in a tree.  One of my favourite from Rapture is If I Was Dead.  Like Putting on My Shirt, it employs simple language and structure and is written directly to the poet's lover.  

If I was dead,
and my bones adrift
like dropped oars
in the deep, turning earth;

or drowned,
and my skull
a listening shell
on the dark ocean bed;

if I was dead,
and my heart
soft mulch
for a red, red rose;

or burned,
and my body
a fistful of grit, thrown
in the face of the wind;

if I was dead,
and my eyes,
blind at the roots of flowers,
wept into nothing,

I swear your love
would raise me
out of my grave,
in my flesh and blood,

like Lazarus;
hungry for this,
and this, and this,
your living kiss.


  1. Lovely write up, Tom. I met Matthew Sweeney a couple of years ago (he's a friend of one of my MA lecturers) and was a hoot. A warm, funny guy who makes for great company.


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