‘The Gust of Wind’, Ethel Spowers (1890 – 1947)

What’s going on here?

During the first lockdown in the UK I started posting personal responses to individual poems. I say something about my initial motivations here and my reasons for starting up again more recently here. There’s a new one every few weeks (they don’t take long to read, but they take some time to write).

I sometimes use the blog to write about poetry more generally and (more rarely) other things I’m reading too. There are links to more of my own writing, poetry and otherwise, here.

Personal responses?

The responses are often records of how a poem has moved me personally – what I like or admire about them. But I don’t always write about my favourite poems – only the ones I find myself having something to say about that week. And what I like about a poem, as often than not, will be something to do with how the poem is written, or an association it provokes.

Poetry can be a direct source of comfort or inspiration. But how it does this isn’t always straightforward. And poems can be other things too – surprising, unsettling, amusing, eye-opening, instructive, entertaining. Often there is something distinctily impersonal about how a poem works – it takes you outside of yourself. My aim here isn’t to affirm the role any one poem has played in my own life. Perhaps ‘personal’ is the wrong word.

Then again, I’m not setting out to analyse anything comprehensively either. Each response is an attempt to work out what happens when I read (more exactly, re-read) that particular poem. That element of (personal) discovery depends on being open to where a poem might take you – but, ultimately, it’s always going to be grounded in your own experiences, concerns, and commitments, even as these shift over time. ‘Personal’ is ambiguous – but so is poetry.

What else is out there?

It’s often said that there isn’t enough writing about poetry for general audiences in newspapers, but the truth is there isn’t enough anywhere. Outside of academic journals, most criticism now comes in the form of reviews of new work – a difficult form, and one where the spotlight quickly moves on.

I’ve taken a lot of inspiration for this site from poets and writers doing similar things. I’m inspired especially by Jonathan Davidson’s commitment to sharing poetry and his book/project ‘A Commonplace‘, by HappenStance Press’s ‘OPOI‘ (‘one point of interest’) pamphlet reviews, by Carol Rumen’s long-running column in the Guardian and by websites for new poetry like ‘The Friday Poem‘. In a different form, Jonathan Gibbs curates short story recommendations from different writers for ‘A Personal Anthology‘.

My hope is that in a small way this site can contribute to a broader conversation about how things could be different. My own approach is there for the taking – I’d encourage anyone who enjoys poetry to try it, privately or publicly. Andif you’re interested in what I’m doing and want to reach out, please do.