Photo by Clark Young (licensed under Unsplash Licence)
Happy National Poetry Day! Every first Thursday of October is National Poetry Day in the UK, and to mark the occasion, Strand Magazine has teamed up with King’s Poetry Society to ask King’s students about their favourite poems and why they think poetry is so important. We are also publishing poems by members of King’s Poetry Society, which you can find below.
Poetry is something we can all enjoy and engage with, and hopefully some of the recommendations, reflections, and writings below will inspire you to spend some time with poetry, today and year-round.
Zaara loves ‘When I Say That We Are All Teen Girls’ by Olivia Gatwood — ‘It celebrates and mourns being a girl; feels like I’m screaming and giggling while writing my diary’. In this way, poetry is ‘someone else giving words to how you feel’.
Ashleigh Dowling’s favourite poem is ‘Education for Leisure’ by Carol Ann Duffy, because it is ‘a great example of a poem that balances humour with powerful social commentary, demonstrating the capacity of a poem to be both entertaining and a vessel for advocacy’.
One of Smilte Truncaite’s most-loved poems is the classic ‘I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ by William Wordsworth. ‘The poem seems to touch on the idea of not being present in a defining moment in one's life, and only later realising what that moment meant to you. It is just something we all humans can relate to no matter the differences, which is also what poetry tends to do: unite our minds’.
Ozgu Aydin also loves a classic poet, Rumi: ‘Rumi, to me, encapsulates the very essence of poetry and shows how powerful simple words can be in communicating a deep message that can reach all kinds of people of different ages or walks of life’.
Strand editor-in-chief, Talia Andrea, recommends Crush by Richard Siken: ‘Crush is a series of poems in which every word has its place. There’s no excess to trim off. You (and especially you, as it’s written in second-person POV) move with the narrator as he examines everything, from the green-eyed boy standing next to you in the supermarket, to his sandwich cut in half on a plate, which is sitting right next to the coffee “you”’ve just brought him. This “catalog of non-definitive acts” comes off the page: raw and real, and most of all, vitally human’.
Personally, I think everyone needs to read the collection Your Emergency Contact has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen. It’s a celebration of queerness, an exploration of Asian-American identity, and a critique of US politics and the family, all the while weaving pop culture references amongst gut-wrenching lines that are simply, ‘splendiferously’, unforgettable.
Why we love poetry
President of King’s Poetry Society, Ujjwala Singh, said: ‘Poetry does not merely mean the jotting down of abstractions, praying that little attention is paid to the meaning behind the words. It is not feigned superiority or an heir of pompous arrogance. Rather, poetry is what allows those who cannot articulate their human experiences, to feel seen by those who can decades after the words were first written. It allows those with brimming emotions a hallowed safe place to keep them. Poetry is not just an emotion; it is the encapsulation of moments. The immortalization of a snowflake the morning after a blizzard’.
King’s Poetry Society’s editor-in-chief, Ellie Dempster, spoke about the expansive capacities of poetry: ‘To write poetry is to sing, to hum a tune chosen by you and paint the lyrics on a blank canvas. To read poetry is to experience an orchestra, a concerto of unfamiliar yet safe rhythms. Poetry is music, poetry is education, we learn from the beats and the pauses of another language, another metre.
Talia Andrea also underlined how poetry takes on life outside the page and fosters community — in Siken’s case, Crush has often ‘been appropriated and re-appropriated. Quotes from its poems have appeared in everything from tattoos to fanfiction epigraphs’.
Finally, Almas Hayat summed up the many reasons why poetry can be resonant for everyone: ‘Poetry is polysemic…there are no rules to poetry, no set of regulations that must be adhered to whilst writing. In poetry there’s freedom, and in freedom there’s expression. Poetry is expression whether that be of emotion or of a declaration or an opinion — we’re expressing it in a way we choose.
Poetry resembles humans. It can come in all shapes and sizes, in all depictions; it can be small, concise, simple and straightforward but it can also be flowery, complex, allegorical and subtle. What is so beautiful about poetry is that there’s a piece of the poet in their work. This doesn’t need to be from the poet’s experience of life that they’re transferring onto paper, but their voice: poetry allows all voices to be heard.
This form of expression is artistic and necessary. We need poetry — we are all, with or without effort, poetic. I love how in poetry, there’s history, there’s a reason; perhaps this reason isn’t known to the poet but reveals itself to the reader. Poetry can mean one thing to the one who writes it and another to the one who reads it — that’s the beauty of poems; it gives inspiration and we give interpretation.
But the most beautiful of all is there’s a timelessness to poetry — the poet’s voice is captured hundreds of years before in this piece of writing and is read today, with newer minds and ideas and newer poets whose voices will be carried on throughout generations to come…poetry captures feelings and thoughts and allows them to exist in this space of stanzas. I think poetry will never die because people always have something to express, and as long as people have something to express, poetry will give its form to liberate our thoughts and let them just exist’.
Photo by Ksenia Makagonova (licensed under Unsplash Licence)
Poems by members of King’s Poetry Society
‘October in Tuscany’ - Tom Barnes
There’s somewhere lost that hot October night,
The duvet barely covering your back,
Your English skin in pale Italian light,
The sweats of love in every crack.
There’s somewhere lost the rows we had, the screaming,
The angry bodies caught in flight or scar,
Italian love in pale October dreaming,
The arm flailed out, too fast, too far.
There’s somewhere lost the bitemarks on my thigh,
The yellow grasses stranded in your hair,
October buzzing of a lonely fly,
And brooding sunlit Tuscan air.
There’s somewhere lost your eyes closed thinly red.
I’ve now forgot the softness of your touch.
I can’t recall October things we said.
I don’t remember you that much.
There’s somewhere lost your hair dark on the pillow,
Your pale breath crying as November started:
Inhale October sun, the curtains billow.
I can’t remember why we parted.
Tom Barnes: ‘Poetry, for me, is how I put ideas in as short, and as rhythmic, a way possible’.
When I set foot here
You seemed to me, an extension
Of the place I came from
Yet I shrugged it off, the familiarity.
You were the dream I knew would come true.
Yet I wanted to distance you.
Loving you felt heretic,
almost like a betrayal
when I longed for that homely smell
and those faces that defined my life
Those places that I left behind.
I said I hated it here
felt like retracing those miles home.
But deep down I wanted to find me,
find out who I am here.
Slowly your sights took over my dreams became the landscape my shut eyes drifted towards.
Your lanes and canals, all too familiar
I wonder how I got here...
I leave it to you
To make me fully yours
To make me feel, that coming to you
Gulping down the nostalgic yearnings
Persevering, despite the constant flood of tears, is worth it .
The tireless steps taken
Towards a future I envisioned
Given the fragility of everything, of life, of emotions, is worth it.
The constant commotion
The incessant calm
The severe noise
All in one place.
Sheer beauty of the skies
The impervious and inclusive streets
This is “the” place to be
Where I am me and can constantly, shamelessly, and proudly be me.
It’s a start but I feel an affinity
Dear London, I hope you fully become one with me!
Punya Rajput: ‘Poetry is why I am. I think in verses at times. It is hard for me to envision a life devoid of poetry. It’s the most incredible and crucial form of expression according to me and to quote John Keating: “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for”’.
It takes another country,
Or something so drastically different,
To make you come back to your reality,
To make one realise that,
We aren't living ourselves,
But by the standards of ideal images we have set.
So many of my qualities that I used to boast about,
Have just turned out to be protective shields,
Seeing yourself in the mirror isn't hard,
but accepting the one you see, is
I am already a stranger to myself,
Feeling betrayed and scared at the same time.
I have known myself for decades,
Only to see that person fade into non-existence,
I am shocked everyday,
Having to learn about the hidden self,
The self that I am unaware to be ashamed of,
For it not being someone to be proud of.
This journey of secondary self discovery,
Isn't something to be called beautiful,
It’s rather unnerving,
But from being someone who i tried to be,
To someone who i can easily breath,
As I realise that soon I will be transparent.
Sajal Porwal: ‘The poem summarises the overwhelming emotions of us international students who are moving here [to London] for the first time’.
‘Sweet’ - Ifé Oluwapo
I knew I was sweet
But sickly sweet
The type to be so craved and ravished immediately
But before completing
Leaving the consumer
Ifé Oluwapo: ‘Over the years poetry has become a way to express the human condition and see the beauty in the mundane and in that I find its importance’.
‘I would be so lucky’ - Kami Abdullayev
I would be so lucky,
To tighten my grip on the rail as I slowly conquer the stairs,
Because it means my legs still obey me.
I would be so lucky,
To reminisce on the good old days with strangers who pretend to listen,
Because it means I have lived through a collection of stories worth sharing.
I would be so lucky,
To see the wrinkles gather by my eyes where my skin has given in,
Because it means my face bears witness to countless years of laughter.
I would be so lucky,
To forget a family birthday or two,
Because it reminds me that I’ve still got some of my own left to celebrate.
I would be so lucky,
To hear the familiar sound of snores and shuffling slippers in the early hours,
Because it means I’ve had the privilege of a lifetime of mornings with you.
I would be so lucky,
To tear up at every goodbye for fear it is my last,
Because it means every hug of mine will remind them how deeply they are loved.
It is in these fears that lies the greatest beauty and the truest form of self-love.
I’ll see you then.
Kami Abdullayev: ‘This poem was inspired by the TikTok trend where a filter shows us an aged version of ourselves. This filter produced a lot of negative conversations around ageing so I wrote this poem as a reminder to everyone, including myself, that living till old age is a privilege and a truly beautiful part of life. I think poetry is important because it reminds us of the beauty in things that may seem quite the opposite at face value’.
To find out more about National Poetry Day, you can visit their website: https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/about-npd/