Nothing but the Poem

April 8, 2010

The new-born spring lent the atmosphere an ethereal freshness as the workshop for ‘Nothing but the Poem’ met in a corner of Oxgangs Library. While the first crocuses were opening up on the Meadows, a mini-bus of literary ladies from a near-by care home arrived to take part in the event run by Reader in Residence Ryan van Winkle. The concept was simple; choose a poem which you carry with you either in your head, memories or purse and share it with the group. At the start of the workshop, after much hurrying and scurrying to find all the books we would need, there were some extremely modest proclamations from all that they couldn’t think of any poems off the top of their heads. However, as soon as everyone had a cup of tea and some chocolate biscuits in them the poems began to spill out with much giggling and hilarity.

After the various professions of having very bad memory it was soon clear that this was far from the case. Poems, ditties, limericks and border ballads learnt from their schooldays spent as bonny wee lassies were soon being recited and, even if some titles were forgotten, everyone appeared to be mouthing the lines and joining in with the sections they knew. J.M. Hayes’ poem ‘The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God’ proved to be a favourite for everyone, and everything from the sonnets of Shakespeare, the lyrics of Burns and across the pond to Robert Service’s ‘Shooting of Dan McGrew’ was recited; the latter was leant an authentic air by the dulcet tones of Ryan’s lilting accent. Many of the recitations transported the rest of us back to a different time, either to when the poem itself was learnt or when it was first written. Ryan’s recital of Service’s poem perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the Yukon gold-rush,

Were you ever out in the great alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in the stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold.

As we all know words possess incredible power and for that small amount of time all were bonded through their love of the rhyme and the hilarity of what lines our collective memories had chosen to remember. The various ditties by Ogden Nash broke up the more serious study of W.B. Yeats and one lovely lady let out a chuckle after reciting the ending lines of Burn’s ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’, likening it to the popular Proclaimer’s song,

And I will come again, my love,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

It was an incredible experience to hear what poets and poems had remained with each participant and upon finishing the workshop I was reminded of Yeat’s poem ‘The Coming of Wisdom with Time’:

Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.

Our Nothing but the Poem sessions invite you to renew your love of poetry with a fresh approach to reading. In these relaxed discussions you won’t need any background knowledge; you’ll simply come fresh to the text of single poems, take the time to read deeply and let new discoveries emerge – without the pressure of reviews, criticism and hype. The next session is on Thursday 15 April, 6 – 7.30pm.

Rory Woodroffe assisted Ryan with running this session at Oxgangs Library. We thank him for penning his thoughts on the event.

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