I wrote my first poetry at about the age of 10: well, not so much poetry as emotional verse coloured by religious sentiment. Not great stuff, but I can still read it without feeling too much embarrassment! I guess it had been written in response to a book my father gave me that year: A Craftsman's Anthology by Arthur Romney Green. I'd never heard of this man, and still know little about him, or even why my father thought this a suitable book for a young child. But I dipped in and out of it for many years, getting to know poets both ancient and modern, and gaining the confidence to read other poetry as well as creating my own.
Though a seed had been sown I don't recall writing anything much for another five years, when I fell in love for the first time. It wasn't apparent to me then, but I was establishing a pattern of responding to overwhelming episodes in my emotional development. Poetry was a solace throughout the break-up of my first romance, the lonely years that followed, then marriage. There was a hiatus during that eventually failing marriage, marked only by a poem wrenched from my heart after the sudden death of my small daughter. I wrote no more until I met the man who was to be my second husband. Apart from an attempt at Shakespearean iambic pentameter for a college assignment in my forties, and an affectionate parodied reply to W. B. Yeats' Wandering Aengus, I've written no more...
In our village Reading Group we compiled our own anthology of favourite verse and poems, and we recently discussed the work of Carol Ann Duffy , particularly her collection, The World's Wife. It's great that, in becoming our latest Poet Laureate, she's achieved several firsts, but I'm still ambivalent about her poetry: she's not "easy", but she does provoke much reflection in the reader. Sometimes her work seems clumsy - Valentine, for instance; sometimes she's romantic, sometimes witty, then she socks you right in the face, as in Mrs. Tiresias; she's cruel and raging in Havisham, and simply lyrical in Anne Hathaway. So far I've not found in her words something I could press to my heart and completely identify with. But maybe that's not her aim - she's good, strong, brave and adventurous - and I don't think I'd be so brave as to reveal my inner self to the public gaze as she and other professional poets do.
I've collected all my efforts in a hand-written notebook that still has a dozen or so blank leaves should I be moved enough to compose again. In my teens I once cherished a desire to be published. But now I re-read my efforts I see they're too raw, too crude and too personal. That's the thing that amazes me about those who do get into print - at what point does a poet feel prepared to submit that crystallisation of deep emotional insight to the judgement of the world? No answer yet!