Special Feature for 2018 Cheltenham Poetry Festival
Has a poem changed your life story? Did your poem make you think — fill you with elation — comfort your sadness — help you decide who you are and where you’re going — or simply hook you on words and poetry? Would you like to share the poem and its impact — and possibly your poetic response to it?
On April 21, as part of next year’s festival, I will introduce a number of poets and enthusiasts to share in four minutes their favourite poem and how it had the power to change their life. Some may also have penned a poem in response, as I have (see below). Entry is by competition, starting with a brief overview of your poem. This should include the title and poet’s name, plus a sentence or two about the impact it had on your life. Entry is by email, and is free. Judging will be by myself and festival executive director Anna Saunders. successful entrants will be given free admission to read and narrate at the event on 21 April 2018 at 7 pm. more on the event and contest
I first saw ‘Desiderata’, a poem that redirected my whole life, in a noisy party at a friend’s house in the Swinging Sixties. It was a picture on the wall of his toilet. Its ‘Go placidly’ first line made me laugh for the first time after months of coping with acute depression. Reading on, I discovered a Christian religious poem containing a philosophy which I, as a humanist, accepted on every point. Particularly apposite were these lines:
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. . .
Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. . .
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Perhaps, I thought, ‘Desiderata’ could help reconcile my parents, both committed Christians, to the atheist and humanist life choice my depression had produced. I was extremely tense when I gave Mum and Dad a wedding anniversary present of a wall plaque inscribed with ‘Desiderata’. But when they read it through, their pleasure and gratitude was evident well before they finished.
I have inherited that plaque, as a reminder of my parents’ memory and ‘Desiderata’s’ value. Its words have comforted and guided me through challenging events and decisions all my life. So much so, that soon after Marilyn, my wife, encouraged me into writing poetry, I was tasked with writing a sonnet. So I decided to distil my favourite poem in my own words as ‘Desiderata for the 21st century‘, which was first published in Graffiti in 2014
Half a century after discovering ‘Desiderata’ I still hold firmly a philosophy of making the most of life for me, family and friends. My truth is that the beautiful drama of life is a performance, not a rehearsal.