I learned to read at a very young age. At just four years old I got to grips with sounding out letters to form words and soon I was off, racing down the road of literary adventure as fast as my eyes could move. I quickly improved my reading skills and by the time I was 10 years old I could read anything. I had finished all the children’s books in the local and the school libraries. I moved on to adult books and poetry. I particularly enjoyed poetry and developed a love of it. I liked the way the words flowed and I liked the freedom of expression it provided.
At 12 years old I read the book Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery. The main character, Emily, was a young girl who was fascinated with words and writing. Emily wrote poetry. After reading this book I also started to write poetry. My poetry was full of imagery and descriptions as I wrote about frost, snowflakes [although I had never seen one], flowers and rain. It was very over the top and I chuckle when I think of it now.
My first year of high school introduced me to original Shakespeare and the study of poetry. I was interested in ballads and epics and wrote pages of flowing, rhyming nonsense with ridiculous themes of love and damsels in distress.
Two of the poems I studied in my first year of high school have stayed with me all my life. The first is The Oxford Voice by D.H. Lawrence. I can still recall, word-for-word, the first verse that goes as follows:
“When you hear it languishing
and hooing and cooing, and sidling through the front teeth,
the Oxford voice
or worse still
the would-be Oxford voice
you don’t even laugh any more, you can’t.”
The other poem that made a big impression was The Listeners by Walter de la Mare. I found this poem to be creepy and quite frightening in its loneliness. I can still quote the first stanza of this poem which goes as follows:
““Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.”
I believe that my enjoyment of reading and poetry have benefitted me as an adult. It resulted in an improved vocabulary and an ability to manipulate words and be creative and skilful in my word usage. This assisted me at university and later in life when I had to write reports at work.
I have read that memorizing poetry improves brain health in the long-term and makes the person less susceptible to Alzheimer’s. I have not verified this theory but it does make sense to me.
Poetry also helped me to gain critical thinking skills. Most poetry has hidden or obscure meaning which needs to be actively thought about to decipher. The skill of analysing documents and prose became a habit for me that kicks in whenever I need to read and review a contract or document.
For me, reading and poetry also lead to a greater appreciation of other arts such as music and art. I love music and singing and I hold the firm view that songs are poems set to music.
Young people frequently harbour a dislike of poetry. Maybe this is because of the way poetry is presented in the school curriculum. The children get bogged down in the greater meaning of the poem before they have had a chance to appreciate the flow of the words and more obvious verbal depictions.
Lately, I have become very fond of haiku and tanka poems. I like the idea of expressing an idea in a set number of syllables and format. The length makes these poems very punchy and a lovely way of making a strong point. I also like to write poems about things I see that interest or disturb me. One of my favourite South African poems is called The Silver Lining and was about a young man who found some joy and fun in the load of plastic he was transporting to earn some money.
The Silver Lining
Clad in dirty shoes and shorts;
His face streaked with dirt;
He swoops past like a bird in flight;
Thrilled with disaster to flirt.
Like nothing you’ve ever seen before;
The skateboard on which he rides;
A platform piled high with recyclables;
No one his recklessness chides.
A pair of dark eyes, wild and bright;
Glow beneath his unkempt crop;
He take a sharp corner rather wide;
There is no-one to make him stop.
We find our pleasures in different ways;
Its human nature to laugh and enjoy;
He’s found a way to make the most of life;
Treating his load like a favourite toy.
By Robbie Cheadle
Robbie Cheadle write the Sir Chocolate series with her son Michael: