One of the first poems I fell in love with was ‘The Forsaken Merman’ by Matthew Arnold. As a burgeoning teenager, its theme of unrequited love and loss with its plaintive cry of ‘Margaret! Margaret!’, its ‘One last look at the white-wall’d town’, and the yearning and hopelessness of it all, appealed in a similar way as the doom and gloom of Hardy’s novels. Earlier, it was Browning’s ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’, the unearthly magic ‘the door in the mountainside shut fast’, Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ and Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ whose ‘skinny hand’ and ‘glittering eye’ petrified me and became entangled in my mind with the ghost of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.
I asked my fellow editors, and poets whose work features in this issue, to share their early memories. Lucy too spoke of her early teenage love for the ‘Ancient Mariner’ and for Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’ and Keats’ ‘The Eve of St Agnes’. As a child, Ann loved ‘Hiawatha’ as did Richard Berengarten who discovered it around the age of eight or nine. For Giles Goodland it was Edward Lear, ‘his longer poems, not the limericks. There was the humour, yes, but also the sadness, and the sense of limitless possibility. It was as if, very young, I saw that poems could do more than novels. I still think that.’
Maureen Duffy’s strongest memory of falling in love with a poem was at junior school, aged ten, when ‘Mr Evans, our Welsh class teacher, read us ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes … the excitement of the lines :’ Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear? ‘ before Bess shoots herself to warn her highwayman lover. Claire Crowther fell in love with her namesake ‘Lady Clare’, by Tennyson, ‘so much so that I spent weeks learning it. I was eight and the tragic narrative deeply moved me. It was the first poem where the fact of it being a poem struck me as somehow adding to the story.’
‘There were many crucial confrontations when I first was drawn to poetry’, writes Tim Liardet: ‘Reading ‘The Wasteland’ was preeminent among these. ‘The Wasteland’ taught me how vision can be excitingly extended; how apparently dislocated parts can make up a whole; how the gestalt of the whole is more than the sum of its parts.’
It was Vasco Popa’s poem cycle ‘The Little Box’ which had a lasting effect on Mark Goodwin; ‘a poem about containing the uncontainable, about miniaturising the infinite, about the corners of vastness, and the vastness of corners:
The little box with the whole world inside
Fell in love with herself […]
And so did I! And by that do I mean I fell in love with myself, ‘The Little Box’, or the whole world …?’
Gavin Selerie’s father would recite poems to him: ‘Among these were Southey’s ‘After Blenheim’ (which I associate with his war reminiscences), the ‘Rubaiyat’ (in Fitzgerald’s version) and Tennyson’s ‘Morte d’Arthur’. I found the lines about Excalibur in the latter especially haunting. He also used to recite Tennyson’s ‘The Revenge’ which contributed to my lifelong fascination with Elizabethan seamanship and voyaging…’
For Maitreyabandhu: ‘The first poem that really took my breath away was hearing a friend read the first five verses of ‘The Mask of Anarchy’ by Shelley. I felt confronted with something big, and wonderful and in some sense vital to human life. Whatever it was, I needed some of that!’
What do all these poems have in common – why that they are long of course!
If you’d like to share your favourites, we’d love to hear about them via the Forum at www.longpoemmagazine.org.uk. You might also like to take a look at the list of MidLength Long Poems, compiled by the American poet Robert Lundy, who would welcome any suggestions for additions. Enjoy!