Understanding poetry


I never know if I understand poetry but that is a silly thing to say. Does it really matter?

It is just the same as when I am reading a book. Sometimes I understand the twists and turns of the plot, the interrelations of the characters and the underlying story that the author is trying to tell. With others, including classics such as ‘The Golden Bowl’ by Henry James, I just can’t make head nor tail of anything. I find myself reading it by numbers, twenty pages or so per day until the end is in sight.

The fact that I don’t always understand them doesn’t mean I stop reading books.

I have written before that I came across the Northern Poetry Library in my home town of Morpeth. It is a rare gem and an asset to the region. Thinking back it used to be at the old library before the flood of 2008. I recall how it was upstairs, at the back before the inundation destroyed the library on Gas House Lane. I only ‘discovered’ it in its new location at the historic Chantry.

I love to go there every so often and choose a couple of collections. I try not to ponder too deeply whether I will like them or not, that is part of the fun. We should all try things which we may not like.

I have been there enough now for the librarians to recognise me. We strike up a conversation while they check my books out. This is one of the advantages of living in a small market town.

When I get home, I sit down somewhere quiet and open one of the collections. Sure enough, some I don’t understand but then I will come across a word, a line, a stanza and even a whole poem that strikes me. It makes me emotional and I feel happy or sad, lost or found, stupid or wise.

Do I understand poetry? It does not matter. In truth there is poetry and some of it works for me.

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