Poetry and Appearing on KUSP, Santa Cruz

This post embraces loneliness by celebrating togetherness. The conduit is that indefinable, elusive, and enigmatic craft of poetry.

95% loneliness: Poetry

The falling leaf poem, the first in e.e. cummings’ collection 95 poems, inspired the strongest definition of poetry I’ve ever been able to come up with: ‘95% loneliness’. It’s impossibly inadequate, of course. It says nothing of genre, form, or even of certainty; it just vividly suggests something about authorship.

Poetry delves beyond certainty. What drives someone to write instead of talk? What inspires someone to encase thoughts implicitly in verse rather than explicitly in prose? On the page, poems celebrate sound and spirit. Off the page, thoughts are often too challenging to be faceds.

Poetry fulfils a different need for everyone. It is a solitary form of oracle, and an individual coping mechanism. As gaps in life become filled, as new open and old ones reopen, poetry continues to educate. We almost always feel better about what is understood or explained rather than what is not.

It is also a voice of fixed directive, operating like home truths. Sometimes poetry soothes me; often it scorns me; sometimes it sympathises with me. My taste surely formed itself on that basis.

Togetherness: KUSP Radio, Santa Cruz

University of Leicester: David Wilson Library
University of Leicester: David Wilson Library

Over the last six weeks, a fabulous group consisting mainly of English PhD students at Leicester have been meeting weekly to read and discuss poems in various locations around the university.

This is largely owing to Dr. Gwynne Harries, Head of the University of Leicester International Study Centre, who developed an email connection with Dennis Morton, host of ‘The Poetry Show’ on KUSP Radio, Santa Cruz, California. The suggestion was made that we could record and produce instalments for broadcast.

Poets we have read and discussed to date include some famous names: Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Andrew Motion and Carol-Ann Duffy, as well as some lesser-known names: Sophie Hannah, Samantha Wynne Rhydderch (a neighbour of Gwynne’s in Wales), Nigel Forde, Taylor Mali, and beyond.

These have produced some enthralling discussions, not just aloud in the recordings, but within and between the shows as well.

  • What is the value of performance poetry?
  • From ‘Preventative’ to ‘Requiem’: how do poets approach elegy?
  • How do writing and art work together, in prosopopoeia or ekphrasis?
  • From place to moment: how does poetry become meaningful to us?

Poetry has a particular power to unite imagination and analysis; sentiment and scholarship; the private thought and the public word. Combine that with the right people, who look to poetry as inspiration, and it becomes one of the finest experiences of expression and liberation.

So inspired by the project, I offered to present the third episode in the David Wilson Library. I am not alone in the group to have faced recent criticism for communication skills. Poetry has proved the perfect medium through which confidence in self-expression could be restored. With a splendid group effort, the session seemed to go very well, and I am thankful for the opportunity.

Writing and art, a passion of mine, came up in different forms, including a beautiful sanqu (散曲) poem in Chinese, 秋思: ‘Autumn Thoughts’, which is linked to watercolour paintings, and the indelible ‘Self-Portrait’ by A.K. Ramanujan.

There can be fewer more complex relationships between writing and image than a self-portrait, precisely because we are often the least capable judges of our own selves.

Mirrors, I noted when reflecting where that relationship broke down for me, are ‘ambivalent servants’. It was poignant to hear a poem that presented dissociation with self-image. How would men with image problems survive in the 1960s? Poetry here delves into great uncertainty and great evasion.

Behind the words; Between the lines.

Having long revolved around poetry – and one very private poet in particular – I am regularly reminded from all sides how much of a solitary being I remain. As difficult as this can become, it has made the social mode of poetry all the more special to embrace, and the recordings for posterity are our moments’ monuments. A heartfelt thank you.


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