Let's start with Kit Wright, a poet who was, and still is, a big influence. Here he is, explaining what floats his poetic boat:
I like what vamped me In my youth: Tune, argument, Colour, truth.
I like that. My version might go like this:
I love what I’ve loved all along:
brevity, levity, soul and song.
Gnomic, prayer-like, profound, playful, witty or rude – short poems are wonderfully portable, quotable and shareable. They're the most modest and courteous of poems, determined not to bore you, although once they've lodged in your mind they'll probably stay for a lifetime. William Blake, Emily Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, Ogden Nash, Spike Milligan, Basho… come in, you're all welcome! Here's a limerick from Ogden Nash: A crusader’s wife broke from the garrison And had an affair with a Saracen. She was not oversexed, Or jealous or vexed, She just wanted to make a comparison.
When it comes to haiku, my favourite is this, by Basho:
Even in Kyoto – hearing the cuckoo’s cry – I long for Kyoto.
That was Robert Hass's translation from his excellent Bloodaxe book, The Essential Haiku. When it comes to modern haiku, I love the work of the Scottish writer, Alan Spence. Here's one from his collection Morning Glory, illustrated by Elizabeth Blackadder:
middle of the night the traffic lights changing for no-one Levity
Good light verse isn't easy to write, and it rarely gets the respect it deserves. I have a sneaky feeling that those who sniff at it do so because they lack wit and/or they couldn't produce a decent piece of light verse themselves. Banish me to a desert island with a poet for company and I'd pick one who can be both serious and humorous. Kit Wright, Roger McGough, Brian Patten, Wendy Cope, Caroline Bird, Billy Collins... they'd all be contenders.
Did I just say I like short poems and light verse? Well, I do, but there's a long and not-funny poem by Dennis O'Driscoll called "Missing God" which I'm very fond of. It articulates something which I suspect many "once-believers" feel – an absence, which the reading and writing of poetry can go a long way towards filling. Here's a short extract from O'Driscoll's poem.
Yet, though we rebelled against Him like adolescents, uplifted to see an oppressive father banished – a bearded hermit – to the desert, we confess to missing Him at times.
Miss Him during the civil wedding when, at the blossomy altar of the registrar’s desk, we wait in vain to be fed a line containing words like “everlasting” and “divine”.
I was brought up Catholic by a mother who was a bit of a mystic, as well as being utterly selfless and unconditionally loving. So, despite being technically "lapsed", I have a "God-shaped-hole" which is at least partly filled by R S Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Eliot's Four Quartets, and the numinous quality I find in John Burnside's poems. I'm never surprised to find that a poet I like is, or was, Catholic. Carol Ann Duffy, Les Murray, Seamus Heaney... the list could go on.
Hurrah for melody, harmony, good lyrics and good voices! When all four come together I'm halfway to heaven. So, for my funeral, could I please have the following two pieces:
1. Morten Lauriden's setting of James Agee's lovely, pantheistic poem "Sure on this Shining Night", sung by Polyphony.
2. "Order and Chaos", sung by Lady Maisery (written by Hazel Askew, who is one of this fabulous, talented folk trio).
Miscellaneous Other Business
There's no time to mention barn owls, Bananagrams, grandchildren, Charles Causley, Middlemarch, September, Anna Boghiguian, the voice of Karen Carpenter, Rufus Wainwright, breakfast, graveyards, Greta Thunberg, Chris Packham, John Berger, ice-cream, Paddington 2, Dr Seuss, Stevie Smith, walled gardens, patchouli, Mahler's 9th, James Taylor, the colour orange, or the followers of Ajahn Chah. But if some of the things I've flagged up appeal to you too, maybe we should meet for coffee and cake. No alcohol, I'm sorry to say – I have addictive tendencies.
Annie Fisher’s background is in primary education, initially as a teacher and later as an English adviser. Now semi-retired she writes poetry for both adults and children and sometimes works as a storyteller in schools. She has had two pamphlets published with HappenStance Press: Infinite in all Perfections (2016) and The Deal (2020). She is a member of Fire River Poets, Taunton. You can find them here: www.fireriverpoets.org.uk.