National Poetry Day is a UK-wide celebration of poetry and takes place on 5 October each year. The theme for 2023 was Refuge, a topic explored by Oison Harris (Student Information Officer, I-Zone) below:
In Italian, the word stanza means room. Similarly, to certain forms of literature then, poetry has a built-in mechanism that taps into our universal yearning or seeking of a refuge from varying things. It is this notion of poetry as refuge that often fosters in younger persons, as one of their first creative acts of re-making the world, a safe space offered up by the actual writing of poetry – a laying bare that somehow simultaneously operates as an armour and microscope with which to view this world.
A fine dissection of what it means to grow up with and through poetry, can perhaps be found in the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas’ poem ‘To A Young Poet’:
For the first twenty years you are still growing
Bodily that is: as a poet, of course,
You are not born yet. It’s the next ten
You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking
For your brash courtship of the muse.
You will take seriously those first affairs
With young poems, but no attachments
Formed then but come to shame you,
When love has changed to a grave service
Of a cold queen.
From forty on
You learn from the sharp cuts and jags
Of poems that have come to pieces
In your crude hands how to assemble
With more skill the arbitrary parts
Of ode or sonnet, while time fosters
A new impulse to conceal your wounds
From her and from a bold public,
Given to pry.
You are old now
As years reckon, but in that slower
World of the poet you are just coming
To sad manhood, knowing the smile
On her proud face is not for you.
Thomas’ poem acutely depicts two sides of refuge – the finding vs the losing of it. The theme of refuge will inevitably bring to the minds of many readers, that Other -the refugee – or those that the Polish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman, (echoing Hannah Arendt) termed as worldless. We do tend to think of ourselves globally, as beings who seek refuge somewhere, or in something or with someone. But for the refugee – whose refuge (home) has become a place they are no longer welcome in – and who seeks to find refuge in another place where sadly, it’s made amply clear to them that their presence is unwanted or disallowed, what refuge from the world can poetry offer then? That maybe precisely what can make refugees writing poetry some of the most accessible and heart-rending poetry out there, because theirs is portable poetry, or as what the Chinese American poet, Wang Ping describes in their poem ‘Things We Carry on the Sea’, as what:
We carry railroads, plantations, laundromats, bodegas, taco trucks, farms, factories, nursing homes, hospitals, schools, temples…built on our ancestors’ backs
We carry old homes along the spine, new dreams in our chests
We carry yesterday, today and tomorrow.
And it’s this carrying, preserving and remembering that is also at play when a poet writes about themselves becoming a refuge for another, but it’s also another aspect of poetry that reveals itself whenever a poem seeks refuge in us and we, to steal from Gareth Evans’ wonderful poem, want to Hold Everything Dear.
My relationship with poetry has grown to offer me peace and find refuge in the most unexpected of places, people and acts. And poems like a refuge can be found, shared, sought, lost, lost and found again, remembered, stumbled on, cherished or handed down. As the American poet, Wendell Berry noted in ‘How to be a Poet’:
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
The Library subscribes to Poetry Review magazine, find the current and back issues on the 2nd floor of Augustine House.