Tuesday, February 22, 2005

What poet first knocked your socks off

...or a question very close to that was put to me recently. Hmm. I had no answer. Many poems by many poets popped into my head, but no poet stood out as The One. A guessing game followed. I shook my head to Gerard Manley Hopkins, the first guess. I shrugged at E. E. Cummings, the last, admitting a fondness for his work, but he certainly was not The One. The questions ended after that.

Today, after I went through my manuscript, correcting punctuation here, repairing the odd line there, and tuning whatever music that offended today's ear (it seems I'm given a new ear each day), I turned again to the question. Who knocked my socks off?

It wasn't long before I had the answer, though it was not a matter of who, but what:

Pussy cat, pussy cat,
Where have you been?
I've been to London
To look at the Queen.
Pussy cat, pussy cat,
What did you there?
I frightened a little mouse
Under her chair.

That knocked my socks off. I can picture exactly where I was standing when I first heard it. Needless to say, I've been asking cats questions ever since.

The other work that knocked my socks at an early age was The Book of Psalms, the influence showing through in my first published poem in The Western Producer back when I was 14.

The question had been answered. Or so I thought. I then picked a couple anthologies off the shelf and sat down to revisit the work of Hopkins, wondering why the heck he'd be the first guess. And then I saw it. I heard it. The disrupted syntax, the compounding, the familiar rhythm, the attention to the natural world and what he called inscape. Perhaps Hopkins had knocked my socks off after all. I do think my bare feet are showing.

1 comment:

GM said...

Hopkins wasn't first for me, but he was recommended to me early on by a mentor who thought I was working towards some Hopkins-like things. First for me was a Wallace Stevens. Then a Frank O'Hara. Then a Leonard Cohen. Or maybe I got all three at once. I can't remember. It was the mid nineties though. I remember that.

Thanks for the post.