Poetry Off The Page

Poetry came alive for me as a teenager when it moved off the pages of school textbooks and into my lungs. It first began on those long, brooding walks of adolescence, shouting Shakespeare into the wind: “Blow, blow thou winter wind!/ Thou art not so unkind/ As man’s ingratitude.” Giving voice to inner turmoil somehow transformed anxiety into action. Or in those mercurial teenage days, if it was elation I was feeling, then I’d run with arms outstretched, reciting lines from Hopkins’ “Windhover”: “the hurl and gliding/ Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding/ Stirred for a bird. The achieve of, the mastery of the thing.” The words, aloud in the air, gave me lift, flight.

These outbursts were all solitary practices, but I was enlivened by the sound of poetry and soon I sought out other ears to share the aural excitement. Poems crackled around campfires on canoe trips, poems laughed at parties, poems spoke solemnly about the dead. And gradually, I ventured my own poems too. It wasn’t enough to write poems; I had to get inside them, know them, listen to them breathing.

Reciting poems became a way to infuse my daily life with poetry. The poems came out according to the circumstances. As a labourer on a construction site, I could offer up poems along with the mortar for the bricklayers. I could regale a shoe salesman, or match verses with the barber’s stories. The province of poetry was not just books and literary magazines. Or even poetry readings. Poems could slip out quietly at a secluded beach, or hang in the autumn mist on a hike through the forest. Poetry off the page, into the lungs, into the air. Poetry as breath, wind, spirit.


Published in The New Quarterly, Volume XVII, No. 1