The first time (line)

In 1969 or thereabouts I was your average bright but disaffected schoolboy.  Like all of my contemporaries I thought that poetry was effeminate and vaguely  silly. There then occurred a moment of revelation, our averagely disdainful English teacher distributed an anthology (“The Albemarle Book of Verse”) to the class and we started to go through some poems. Instead of going along with this, I flicked through the book until I came across “Welsh Landscape” by RS Thomas.

I read the middle bit first-

It is to be aware

above the noisy tractor

and hum of the machine

of strife in the strung woods,

vibrant with sped arrows.

You cannot live in the present

At least not in Wales.

It’s the sped arrows that lifted me to another place. I suddenly understood with that line what poetry could do, how it could transform language and turn ordinary words into art  by altering their usual placement and thereby transposing the sense. I also knew that poetry had just become a major part of my life (it has remained so for the last forty years. What is interesting for me is that the poem isn’t that good and the line about sped arrows  is a bit formulaic- this is hardly an example of what poetry can really do- but it was sufficient to lead me into the world of the poem. I often wonder what would have happened had this random event not occurred, would there have been others to draw me in or would I have remained blissfully ignorant of all the stuff that currently fills my head?

As a writer of poems I’ve noticed recently that (unless I’m careful) I write like R S Thomas, I still adapt his voice, I still end stuff with weak last lines just like him- it’s as if I’ve never really let go of the blueprint that he gave me in 1969.  This is especially odd as I have nothing in common with Thomas’ faith (he was a vicar) or his Welsh nationalism.


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