Carry a Poem…

June 26, 2009

Jane carries a poemOk, so Jane doesn’t actually carry the poem that means the most to her around in a cardboard box, but she does have it in her purse.

Robyn’s is in her diary. Mine’s in my head.

We want to know the poem that means the most to you. We want the story that goes with it. And we want to know how you carry it.

We’re searching for people’s most treasured poems – and we need your help. Can you spare five minutes to let us know about a poem that means a lot to you? Maybe it’s one you learned at school, and still know by heart. It could be a poem that was recited at your wedding, or that one that offered some consolation. Perhaps it calls to mind a particular place that’s special to you, or just cheers you up every time you read it. You might love your poem for its comforting familiarity, or its ability to unsettle you; because it takes you right inside yourself, or right outside; because it captures the way you see things, or helps you see things afresh.

As part of our ‘Carry a Poem’ campaign, we’re collecting people’s tales about poems that matter to them. We’re encouraging everyone to think about their vital poems and the stories that lie behind them, and we’re keen to learn about the poem choices of people all over Scotland, from all walks of life.

You’ll be able to read and listen to some of these poems and stories on our website, and maybe even in a publication of some kind. Your choice will strike a chord with people you’ve never met – and maybe you’ll discover a new treasured poem to carry with you.

– If you could only choose one poem to carry with you, what would it be? It can be by any poet, from any country and in any language.

 – Can you tell us about when you first heard or read your chosen poem? What did it make you think, see or feel? And what does it mean to you now?

 – Do you already carry it with you in any way – in your wallet or purse? In your diary? In your head or in your heart?

10 Responses to “Carry a Poem…”

  1. John Says:

    I never try to learn poems, but one that stuck in my head and has never left (the only one, too) is C.Logue’s untitled piece from his ’69 collection “New Numbers”, it begins:

    Woke up this morning / in the middle of winter / salt in my coffee / sweat in my hair, / the letter said *she’s dead / we know you will miss her* / woke up this morning / in winter in winter.

    Whenever I think of poetry that has touched me personally, this is what comes to mind, and whenever I think of her, this is the poem I think of.

    I carry it in nothing but my head, but sometimes, when I’m away from home, and find myself without a book to read or someone to talk to, I seek out paper and pen, and I write this poem out neatly, and read it over to myself, then leave it behind when I go.

  2. aiko Says:

    Mine is Emily Dickinson’s 341 (After great pain a formal feeling comes)

    After great pain, a formal feeling comes —
    The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
    The stiff Heart questions, was it He, that bore,
    And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

    The Feet, mechanical, go round —
    Of Ground, or Air, or Ought —
    A Wooden way
    Regardless grown,
    A Quartz contentment, like a stone —

    This is the Hour of Lead —
    Remembered, if outlived,
    As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow —
    First — Chill — then Stupor — then the letting go —

    It’s the only one I might possibly be able to recite from memory, especially the last stanza, and quite often a line or two of it will come to mind in random applicable situations–
    Anxious before a test: line two
    Long slow day at work: stanza two
    Walking home in the dark, especially in winter: stanza three, stanza three, stanza three.

    I first heard this poem– well, I first read this poem while studying Dickinson in my undergrad at UCLA, and enjoyed her a lot more than I had anticipated. Her backstory is intense, and the bulk of work she was able to produce out of mainly being locked inside her bedroom blows the mind. I think we have this notion that a poet needs to ‘experience’ things to have the proper material to write with, but she proves otherwise. This poem in particular appeals to me for its literal pacing — I can almost hear her taking steps around her room, reciting the lines out to the tune of her own movement. I think that’s maybe why I think of it most when I’m walking.

    I first heard this poem aloud at a Lucie Brock-Broido reading, where she started her set out by reading #341, her favorite Dickinson poem. I really respect and enjoy (nee put on a pedestal) LBB’s poetry, so to know that she also valued this poem sort of leveled things for me a bit — it reminded me that no matter the time or place, the generation or degree of success, a poem has the power to move people.


  3. […] friend Seamus Heaney; we flag up two exciting projects – the Burns Banner and our Carry a Poem campaign – and we have a letter from Afghanistan. There’ll be a blog post next week on the […]


  4. […] waved Robyn off on her holidays; marvelled at the big rain!; had plenty of meetings; pondered our Carry a Poem campaign in more depth; discussed how the reopening and rebranding of the nearby Holyrood Tavern […]


  5. […] down in Stockbridge hosting a bunch of poetic events and workshops! The month will feature reading poems aloud, going for a GPS poetry walk, and doing some casual reading and workshops. It should be a brilliant […]


  6. […] be semi-based down in Leith hosting a poetic events and workshops! The month will feature reading poems aloud, going for a GPS poetry walk, and setting up a display with my favourite poetry books. You can come […]

  7. Jane Cooper Says:

    The poem I am carrying in my head just now is Schoolsville by Billy Collins. It’s a new discovery me, as I only read it for the first time three weeks ago.

    I’ve been a high school English teacher for 16 years, and this poem just seemed to remind me so much of my own experience. Like Collins, I find my pupils’ names sliding away from me once they have left my class, and have taught enough thousands of them to people a small town. I also love this poem because of its humour and affection towards the business of teaching English, and of trying to teach young people to write creatively.

    Jane Cooper

    Glancing over my shoulder at the past,
    I realize the number of students I have taught
    is enough to populate a small town.

    I can see it nestled in a paper landscape,
    chalk dust flurrying down in winter,
    nights dark as a blackboard.

    The population ages but never graduates.
    On hot afternoons they sweat the final in the park
    and when it’s cold they shiver around stoves
    reading disorganized essays out loud.
    A bell rings on the hour and everybody zigzags
    into the streets with their books.

    I forgot all their last names first and their
    first names last in alphabetical order.
    But the boy who always had his hand up
    is an alderman and owns the haberdashery.
    The girl who signed her papers in lipstick
    leans against the drugstore, smoking,
    brushing her hair like a machine.

    Their grades are sewn into their clothes
    like references to Hawthorne.
    The A’s stroll along with other A’s.
    The D’s honk whenever they pass another D.

    All the creative-writing students recline
    on the courthouse lawn and play the lute.
    Wherever they go, they form a big circle.

    Needless to say, I am the mayor.
    I live in the white colonial at Maple and Main.
    I rarely leave the house. The car deflates
    in the driveway. Vines twirl around the porch swing.

    Once in a while a student knocks on the door
    with a term paper fifteen years late
    or a question about Yeats or double-spacing.
    And sometimes one will appear in a windowpane
    to watch me lecturing the wallpaper,
    quizzing the chandelier, reprimanding the air.

    This poem is included in the book, Sailing Around the Room: New and Selected Poems.


  8. […] in Fountainbridge hosting free poetic events and workshops! The month will feature reading poems aloud, going poetry writing and setting up a display with my favourite poetry books. You can come and […]


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