There are many things I am grateful for, many people I am grateful to. I have been blessed in many ways.
One of the people I am grateful to is my father. And one of the things I am grateful to him for is the effort he made to ensure I had a love of poetry.
You see, I don’t remember him making any effort at all. Just conversation. He would quote snatches of poetry at random, leaving me with the (completely voluntary) task of looking the quotation up in Bartlett’s or in Stevenson’s, and following it up where appropriate with delving into relevant anthologies or collections.
He was aided and abetted in this by my uncle PK, whose style was completely different, larger than life in every way. Instead of the odd couplet or verse, PK would burst forth into song, an entire poem at a time, delivered as only he could. To this day I have not heard an Indian recite Burns the way he did; in fact I have not heard anyone visibly relish the act of spouting poetry as much as he did.
It’s only now that I realise what a privileged upbringing that was, to be in a household where Shakespeare was quoted daily, not just from the plays but from what the onlie begetter actually got; where hearing Herrick or Wordsworth or Tennyson or Browning or Dickinson or Coleridge or Dylan Thomas was considered normal; where the War Poets were loudly discussed over coffee and cigarettes, where Yeats was celebrated as joyously as Wodehouse. PG, despite not being a poet, was quoted at home regularly, interspersed with Carroll and Lear. And Ogden Nash. Besides Wodehouse, the only author I remember being quoted regularly was Rex Stout.
The teachers at school therefore had something to work with, particularly the brothers Vianna, Mr Redden and Mr Engineer. They taught us well.
And all this was overlaid with occasional references to poetry embedded in the Times crosswords and in the quiz leagues that formed an exhilarating part of my youth and adolescence. Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Paul Simon and John Lennon had their considerable influence as well, as did Bertie da Silva, a close friend and constant companion in my university years.
All this is why, today, I can spend time reading and enjoying the poetry of someone like Nick Laird. A complex and sometimes confusing array of influences conspiring to encourage the love of poetry in me.
I was delighted to see Use of Spies in the October issue of the Believer, there’s something about that poem I love. Can’t explain why, but I do.
Here’s an MP3 of Nick reciting the poem, in case you’re interested.
By the time I retire (which is now a handful of years away) I will have been involved in building a school. Of that I am certain. And every school day, I hope to walk to that school and spend an hour or two just talking to children about my love of words and language and poetry, showing them that love in conversation and anecdote and story.