Today is National Poetry Day in the UK. It seems to be getting earlier every year – a little bit like Christmas. I love National Poetry Day (I can’t bring myself to call it NPD as if it’s some European political party); I love to see all the projects and events that it gives rise to, and all the poetry that comes from it. It brings with it a tinge of guilt because I never seem to get it together in time (again, a bit like Christmas), but then I calm myself with the knowledge that I work with poetry on an almost daily basis so I hope I can be let off the hook a little (so… not much like Christmas, then).
When I tell people I enjoy poetry they give me a fleeting but slightly constipated look (a little bit like Chuck when he flashes*) which says: Really? But you like science fiction and fantasy. You can’t like poetry too. I do. Ah, so you must like science fiction poetry. I don’t really know what that is. I don’t know what it is because a lot of wonderful poetry, from what people generally call mainstream poets, like John Burnside, Mimi Khalvati, Miroslav Holub, Ted Hughes, Maurice Riordan, uses science imagery and science references. The poetry’s not looking for a label, just a way of acknowledging the world in which we live. I like poetry to move me, to transform me, to make me better for having let that particular poem into my life.
For over fifteen years poetry has been meat and bread to me, and I look for it in most places. I certainly look for it in fiction (any genre) and in how I write myself. I get frustrated at flat or, worse still, lazy writing, and I pounce on fiction that has poetry as a stone in its foundations – there are obvious writers here such as Jeanette Winterson, Angela Carter, Philip Pullman, David Mitchell, but also less immediately obvious writers such as Terry Pratchett, David Almond, Alan Garner, HG Wells, George Orwell. I look for the fresh simile, the well structured syntax, the economy of language (which I fight for constantly in my own work), the emotional truth of the story. It’s become a sort of happy addiction, like my tea or coffee.
I’m a big tea drinker. I can easily quaff five mugs a day, sometimes more. I’ve been known to chain-drink three mugs, especially if I’ve been away, and especially if I’ve been in London – I don’t know why because I do drink tea when I’m there, but there’s something about your own tea that’s just…
I also like coffee. I don’t drink a lot of coffee, but every now and then I crave a cup. I live in a small town with four thriving café/coffee shops (not the big chains), which tells me the people around here must not sleep so well, but the best coffee comes from the café in a little tree nursery (the Olive Grove) just outside of town. They just always seem to get the right mix of milk, steam and coffee. It’s never burnt, it’s never bitter. The only time I had a complaint was when it was too cold, but they fixed me another one. They’re nice people. They give you time to enjoy your drink. And the coffee’s not expensive. I mention this, I think, for two reasons 1) my own coffee pot smashed and so I’ve been trying to boil coffee on the stove top (reasonably successful, but not quite the same) and 2) this café has a space that begs for poetry readings. It’s light, it’s airy, it’s big. It would have to be in summer, though, because it’s more a permanent gazebo than a room, but that’s okay… poetry is far reaching, and so is the day that celebrates it.
*Chuck – the superspy with a computer in his head, not a pervy flasher!