If you follow me on Twitter (@nellsberry) you might have spotted that I’ve set myself the challenge of reading at least one poem a day throughout 2016. You can follow #poetrychallenge2016 for day-to-day insights into what I’m reading and why. Credit where credit’s due – last year I tried to write a poem every day. I got as far as April. A poet in a Hackney cafe said that it might be more interesting to try and read more. He was right!
January started with some deeper appreciation for poetry books that have graced my shelves for a fair while. Carol Ann Duffy’s The Bees was bought for me as a gift by Patrick Daniels when he left the charity I work for end of 2012. He once noted the importance of true passions – noting that one of mine was probably poetry. He is of course a very insightful man.
Kate Tempest’s Hold Your Own was a Christmas present from ‘The Angel’ a couple of years ago. A family friend, Helen Anastasi, I’ve known since I was a toddler. The woman I imagined saving me from my nightmares aged four. Another very insightful person.
Beyond the poems available to me within arms reach, I started to take more notice of the poetry filling my twitter feed, as well as recommendations from people who have taken an interest in my challenge. My partner Leejay has started to send me links and inspiration and has encouraged me to venture back in time to old classics.
I also put out a request for poets to send me their wares – I’m happy to pay for poems, but Richard Tyron Jones offered to send me some anthologies for a donation to charity. This was excellent news – so he sent me two books Big Heart and The Germline. I’ve since donated to Living Streets. I’ve yet to get my teeth into Big heart, but have really enjoyed The Germline so far. To say it’s unsettling would be an understatement. I’ve always been drawn to comic poetry since my earliest days of poetry appreciation and so to receive a collection as dry as this – which dares to go to places others wouldn’t, massively appeals to me. I’m also in the position of understanding genetics in relation to my own health – a key theme in this anthology.
A friend of mine (another fellow poet funnily enough) has been in the Philippines since the end of 2015 and has sent me a couple of updates about his trip. He admitted he’d had some low days with a funny tummy, to which I simply quoted a line from a Germline poem called ‘Advice you never asked for’:
Youth glimmers in the dark because memory is a dirt-filter, it pans for gold in toilets of the past
I’ll take this broad brush approach to sourcing poems as we enter February, and there will always be something unique to each month. In January, the death of David Bowie, heavy snow earlier in the month, my attendance at an Aspire Foundation workshop and receiving Tupac’s The rose that grew from concrete for my birthday – all contributed to my reading sources. I’m intrigued to see what prompts will show up over the coming months.
Thanks for reading if you’ve got this far – and do stay a little longer to read my poetic summary of the month below… Love Helen xx
That feeling of infinite possibility
For the year ahead?
When the start of January
Tastes and smells of Chemotherapy
Couldn’t be anything but a memory.
Until I saw the world
Through a filter of poetry.
And it’s now I realise that either side of
Each doctor’s appointment, day lost through chemical fog,
Prolonged visit to the bathroom
Inability to go for a jog
Either side of of these fucked up days…
There are events, people and stories
In a tangle of words ready to be devoured each day
That will forge a new way of experiencing this year
This life I was dealt but can still create.