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. Poetry as necessary as air. 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