If ever you’re stuck for something to read around lunchtime, you could do a lot worse than subscribe to something called ‘Lunchtime Poetry’, whereby a poem hits your inbox at just the right time when you’ve run out of pages in your book. It’s quite new, only launched the other week, and is produced by Glasgow publisher Freight Books. They’re not paying me to plug their product, I promise. One of the poems this week was ‘A Lemon’ by Pablo Neruda. I hadn’t encountered the poem before; I would advise you to seek it out. The third stanza begins with:
‘Cutting the lemon
leaves a little cathedral’.
Wow. Even though it’s a translation, that’s a cracking line. The cut creates more than a crevasse or a crater: a whole cathedral is left in the knife’s wake.
I’ve read poetry since I was a teenager and I even wrote some back then. I also wrote stories, real fictional stories with characters and dialogue and everything, though thankfully they have long since been recycled into oblivion. One story I wrote was about a teenage rock band from the east of Edinburgh that I called the Deaf Roots, after a line from Pablo Neruda’s poem ‘Widower’s Tango’. I liked Neruda because his words sang and each line was rich in double-meaning and symbolism, which even I could figure out. I was looking for band names and the Deaf Roots just worked as a name – to my knowledge, it still hasn’t been taken and that’s despite much lousier names already being taken like Coldplay but they’re shite generally. Anyway, the characters in my story were all named after Hibs players of the time, all except the main character whose surname – Ingle – was drawn from hearing one of my teachers say she had never encountered it anywhere else. The things you do when you’re 16 and finding your own entertainment.
I haven’t read Neruda in a couple of years. I just got my book out of the cupboard to find that line. The last poetry I read for fun was probably Edwin Morgan though it might have been last year when I bought an anthology called Be The First To Like, published by Vagabond, another independent publisher from Glasgow, strangely. I have little bits and lines swirling around my head most days, from Burns, Norman MacCaig, Edwin Morgan, Sorley MacLean, Jackie Kay and numerous others, and they inform how I think and see the world.
I know, however, that poetry is sometimes hard for people to appreciate. I know someone who is studying English literature who can’t go poetry at all. That’s fine. It’s all about personal taste. I find poetry hard too – it’s like art for me, the less abstract the better. I remember being in fourth year at school and being handed the Yeats poem ‘Prayer For My Daughter’ and being absolutely lost with all the symbolism. Literary analysis has never been one of my strong suits and it certainly wasn’t then. I like poetry when I don’t have to analyse it. In that, I tend to think of Douglas Adams who said that if you tried to take a cat apart to see how it worked, the first thing you would have is a non-functioning cat. Reading is a hard act to break down into constituent parts. I read and if a line has resonance it might be a case of me simultaneously reading the words and thinking of what it means to me on one of several levels. This all happens at once and hardly any of it could come under analysis for me. I don’t tend to care about metre and rhyme schemes. I just like a good phrase, the kind where if you cut it, a cathedral is left.