I am one of those people that left school with a certain ambivalence toward poetry. It morphed into something more aggressive when I got to university, and poetry was used to aid the degradation of what other students and teachers considered to be ‘low’ culture (in other words, everything I had enjoyed reading up until then) class after class.
Then I had to read medieval poetry, which really was like banging the nails into an already pretty well secured coffin. I didn’t understand what I was reading half the time, my grades floundered (which was the case through much of my education, honestly. Eventually I figure it out, but it takes me more time than most. At this point, I am coming to the conclusion that I am, however unintentionally, probably a lifelong proponent of doing things the hard way) and I started to blame ‘Poetry’ for my various academic failures, past and present.
… Yeah. I was one of those people. Poetry was to me symbolic of everything I was surrounded by and excluded from at that time: academic success, being able to talk like a smart person, ease with the hyper-academic environment of university and… rich parents (it is less of an issue now but to say I had a chip on my shoulder at the time is an understatement. It was more of a boulder with which I would inadvertently bludgeon rich kids with when they mentioned their parents’ second homes or the fact that they had ‘playrooms’ when they were children).
Thinking about it now, this was a heavy burden to place on a form of writing.
All of this is to say that when I found Sarah Kay’s work and fell in love, it all came as quite a surprise. I came to it, as I do so many great things, through a TED Talk she gave a few years back about kids and creative expression. During the talk, she performed two of her poems, ‘B’, and ‘Hiroshima’. It was like a switch was flipped somewhere inside of me. I didn’t know poetry could be that way.
During a time when stories – which before my degree had always been a place of refuge for me – had for the first time in my life left me feeling excluded and insecure, Sarah Kay’s words invited me in. They inspired me. There is an air of fragile yet relentless hope in her writing that I wanted for myself. I scoured the internet for every video of her performing and watched until I had the words memorised.
Then she released a poetry book, and I didn’t buy it for two years.
I was afraid that it wouldn’t be the same on the page. I had got into the habit of watching people perform it, but I still didn’t read poetry. I didn’t know how to do it outside of a class, analysing it line by line [Me: What is Sylvia Plath talking about? Teacher: What do YOU think? Me: ARGH!]. I was afraid that the special relationship I had with this woman’s work would be ruined if I tried to sit down and read her. What if the worst thing happened? What if I wasn’t smart enough for it? What if the feeling that happened when I listened to her speak went away? What if it was broken?
When No Matter the Wreckage finally arrived (the day before I was going on holiday. I read much of it over the course of a seven hour car journey), I realised I needn’t have worried.
It took me forever to get past the first poem, the playfully named ‘Love Poem #137’. Not because I didn’t understand. No, I quickly realised that reading Sarah Kay’s poetry was like listening to my favourite songs. I wanted to read them over and over again.
No Matter the Wreckage is a beautiful collection of poetry filled with open heartedness, gratitude, heartbreak and a persistent sense of joy in the face of a challenging world. It’s concerned with being a young woman in the world, a traveller, in love and out of it. It’s about family. The sincerity of her words ripped chunks out of me even as it helped me place others back together.
I started making lists of the poets I plan to read in the future. Me and poetry are on better terms these days.