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5 Poems That Changed My Life

In a little diversion from my monthly '5 Books...' feature where my esteemed contributors share their life-changing reads, I'd like to share with you the poems that have really rocked my world.

The first line of this poem has always offered me comfort in times of need. The idea that all I need to do is let go and everything will be well. I believe everyone should know at least one poem off by heart. I taught my kids ‘This Is Just To Say’ by William Carlos Williams, who delight in getting it all wrong. I do not know all of the above poem by heart but the line ‘you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’ is engraved across my soul.

As much as I love the first poem, I also love this response to it written by the incredible Hera Lindsay Bird. I mean, just those first three lines…. And then further on, ‘meanwhile in a hospital gown’. Hera pokes you where it hurts and it feels so horribly good. ‘Oh Mary, How will we survive ourselves, And will this life ever answer? I don’t know, Panic and awe are the same to me.’ Anyway, I’ll stop stealing lines from this exquisite poem and let you read it for yourself.

I thought about including 'Walking Away' by Cecil Day-Lewis or 'Outgrown' by Penelope Shuttle or even 'Morning Song' by Sylvia Plath but none of them encapsulate the entirety of my grief at no longer holding a baby, my awe that I had anything to do with my daughters' existence and the way I love them now. The lines...

‘I cannot bring myself  to toss the cup of cold coffee

you set down by the door on your way to the taxi

all day I have sipped it each time forgetting

your two tablets of fake sugar too sweet’

could be for a partner or a child. I so miss my children when they are away from me. Leave silly notes by their bed. I miss eating toast done under the grill with my aunt. "Careful," she’d say, "it’s hot". I miss the cherry trees that used to line the bottom of the road I lived on, before they got ripped out for extra parking spaces. Blossom used to decorate my mother’s car as she went to buy us those weird, little milk lollies. I liked the plain ones best, but my brothers liked chocolate. This poem makes me think about all the love and loss in my life.

If I had only thought of 'my heart, that junkie’ I think I could put down my pen forever. It’s not just the lines ‘I want to go very fast’ but the order and the everydayness of it all. Extraordinary love is actually incredibly plain. A text to my husband to say I just worked out I’ve not been using enough baking powder in my pancakes. Him telling me he’s five minutes away.

This last one is very rude, so apologies - but I dare you not to want a very hot cup of coffee after reading it. Schwartz has unlocked the mystery of female sex, its concentrated sweetness, which makes the mouth as happy as summer. It’s so good that I if I still smoked, I’d have a post-coital Silk Cut in its honour.


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