I have an uneasy, ambivalent relationship with poetry in general... difficult to explain... but I veer between viewing it, on the one hand, as being an indulgence for the pretentious, the over-romantic and the angsty, yet on the other hand, if I just let it in, appreciating what can be moving, inspiring, beautiful, funny. I suppose some prejudices came from reading crap poetry posing as something else, and from witnessing the sort of protagonists who lack a sense of humour. Maybe I'm from a generation which finds it easier to accept poetry in the form of a song lyric. But when I was a child, when I had no concept of any kind of pompous approach to it, I loved poetry... I loved my poetry books: Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden Of Verses, Spike Milligan's Silly Verse For Kids, T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats. I never had a Ted Hughes poetry book, although we did read his novel Iron Man at primary school (alongside such classics as Stig of the Dump by Clive King) and I found it quite hard-going... maybe it was just a bit scary for me. Perhaps I should re-visit it.
At primary school we also read and enjoyed the poetic works of Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Lear, Adrian Mitchell, Hilaire Belloc and Christina Rossetti (with the added bonus of many of them being illustrated by Edward Ardizzone and Edward Gorey, whose art I still adore). Then we'd have to write our own poems about Autumn and favourite pets, etc. and we learned that they didn't even have to rhyme, we just stretched our imaginations out to their furthest points, then edited them into short lines. I loved it. I loved the way a well-chosen combination of words could convey so much, could change things, like a kind of alchemy - and I thought one day I'd like to be a poet too.
Anyway, I found the documentary fascinating and thought-provoking. There are some candid and touching insights from Ted and Sylvia's daughter, Frieda, to whom I warmed immediately, and interviews with friends and associates which were enlightening. Plus, it reminded me to keep being true to what I feel deep down, and that is: not to dismiss the poetic just because, sometimes, it might seem a bit poncey.
Excerpt from 'My Brother Bert' (for children) by Ted Hughes
Pets are the hobby of my brother Bert,
He used to go to school with a mouse in his shirt.
His hobby it grew, as some hobbies will,
And grew and grew and GREW until -
Oh don't breathe a word, pretend you haven't heard,
A simply appalling thing has occurred -
The very thought makes me iller and iller
Bert's brought home a gigantic gorilla!
If you think that's really not such a scare,
What if it quarrels with his Grizzly Bear?....