Rhyme and rhythm: the rhyming couplets in the Rupert Bear annuals, knowing The Pied Piper of Hamelin by heart when I was four, a second-hand Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia (all 10 volumes). Traditional stuff. Choral verse speaking at school, 44 of us – classes were large in those day – belting out ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’. Then The Faber Book of Comic Verse as a school prize, showing me what fun pastiche could be when it overturned the classics. I wish I could claim a more impressive pedigree.
New poetry hadn’t reached my school (or teachers) so R.S.Thomas’ ‘Welsh Testament’ as the A-level unseen was a revelation. I bought Penguin Modern Poets Vol 1 (July 1964 in my school-girl hand). That was a landmark.
Light verse was inevitable. ‘Proper’ poetry was for greater minds so I entered by the back door – New Statesman and The Spectator weekly competitions. I met like-minded scribblers: my tribe, at last, and still a happy distraction. You can hide in light verse, and find yourself too. It’s the best place to rant about politics.
The Poetry Library was my salvation: so many magazines! New poets and poetry to explore. And the librarians didn’t throw me out but accepted that I was just like them. One scrap that haunts me is Larkin’s “… the uncaring / intricate rented world …” (from ‘Aubade’). He predicted the twenty-first century there.
With poems appearing in the small magazines I was offered a chance to review for a local newsletter: of course! I was flattered. But writing that review taught me how much I didn’t know, and I’ve been learning ever since. Reviewing takes me into new writing, keeps me curious, makes me write as accurately as I can about why / how poetry achieves what it does, and how it is always, always changing.