One thing I envy my parents’ and grandparents’ generations is that they were taught, in fact required, to memorise poetry. For me, in the 1980s and 90s, we barely touched poetry at school.
There was one supply teacher who did the scissors poem from Please Mrs Butler by Allan Ahlberg (a collection I still love) and I have a vague memory of there being a “big cat poetry” element to my GCSE English course…and that’s it. Aside from on posters on the classroom walls (which, incidentally, is where I discovered this love of mine) and being encouraged to write our own, poetry was strangely absent.
I am lucky that my family spotted my interest and bought me plenty of poetry books to read at home, but I feel that I somehow lack something by not being able to reel off a dozen of my favourite poems by heart. I know bits of poems – from Night Mail by W H Auden (incidentally, I recently discovered you can buy that film from the BFI), The Second Coming by W B Yeats and the aforementioned Please Mrs Butler – and I think I was once able to recite Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and Leisure by W H Davies (which I was reminded of yesterday by this amazing piece in the Washington Post), but now in both cases I get lost.
Of course, I could remediate this; it’s hardly too late. I have all the books. And I should perhaps be grateful that I instead came out of school with computer skills and some knowledge of books written outside the UK (I discovered the Yeats poem mentioned above when I studied Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart at A level). I think I need to go read some poetry now.