I did not much enjoy English class in secondary school and this is something which people around me find difficult to believe. I read an immense amount and sometimes that is even in the form of books and I like writing. Surely to God English class should be my happy place.
Most of it after the age of 13 was literary appreciation and depressing enough at that. I think one of the greatest books ever published is Exploring English Three, the collection of short stories (and I hope to hell my version, with Augustine Martin’s notes is at home somewhere because I don’t much appreciate Joseph O’Connor). School ruined my enjoyment of it. Anyway, that’s a side note.
I don’t own a lot of poetry books and what I do own is split between here and there, But for the last year, I have had a regular pilgrimage trip to the poetry section of my local Waterstones.
I live in Brussels. I can also buy English books in FNAC, but no poetry, and Filigranes (very limited poetry). Mostly I buy non-fiction and some fiction. I buy books in French as well. But I don’t have a huge poetry collection and don’t especially want loads of poetry. I consider poetry to be chicken soup for the soul, something of a comfort blanket that I dip into as and when I need.
So why the pilgrimage?
Well, when I went to Waterstones for the first time, it occurred to me that they should, if they had a poetry section, have an anthology of Robert Frost. I already owned one but it is in storage, somewhere, and given I arrived when quarantine ruled out travel to Ireland, finding that copy of Frost was not going to happen. But books can be justified as they do not cost as much as CDs. Robert Frost is my favourite English language post after Patrick Kavanagh.
[cf that note about English class at school. It left me wholly unimpressed by William Butler Yeats]
He wasn’t there. There would only be stopping by woods on an iPad screen for the time being. Or possibly a kindle.
Robert Frost being a major poet, and possibly the greatest of the American poets in my humble opinion based on being sh1t bad at English in school. I assumed he was just temporarily out of stock. So I figured I’d check back the next time. It was a bookshop; it was unlikely that it would be long before I went back in there. It was quite a busy one too so stock turnover had to be reasonably frequent.
And there he wasn’t again, and again, and again. I considered ordering it, or ordering it from amazon, and then I bought a book of Edward Lear’s nonsensical but heartwarm poems, illustrated. Eventually, it became a habit to look through the poetry section every time although after several months I wondered how cultured the buyers were that Robert Frost never showed up.
Which brings me to this morning. I picked up some fantasy fiction by the genius that is Garth Nix, and then I briefly wandered to the poetry section to not find Robert Frost and found reality did not match my expectations. Robert Frost had finally arrived.
My home feels complete now.
And for the record, I got a C in Leaving Cert honours English. I think I dealt with George Herbert’s The Collar, mostly because that was the one that was printed on the paper and it meant I did not have to remember quotes from memory.