Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Of Nit Picking over Blackberry Picking


When I was 13 at school I had a bad time in my English class. We had been asked to read Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney and write a 500 word essay on it. The trouble was I just didn’t get it. I didn’t understand its metaphors its allegories and well 500 words about a poem probably no more than 150 in length seemed beyond unreasonable to me.
I struggled to make 300 words and handed it in thinking that was the end of the ordeal not realising that it was just the beginning. He made me do it again and read out my second attempt when I handed it in a week later. This version consisted of an extra 200 words recounting my own experiences blackberry picking which I thought had been masterfully crafted into the critique of the poem. My English teacher thought otherwise. As I read the essay to the class I realised he had asked me to do so not as an example of a piece of homework done well but as something so bad it could only amuse him and the 30 school boys in the class.
Needless to say he, English literature, Blackberry Picking and all poetry were tossed into my teenage rubbish bin labelled “To be despised at all times”.
Last night I attended for the first time a meeting of the Belfast Speakers’ Circle. This is a group of people who get together and practice public speaking, after dinner speaking, impromptu addresses etc. Each week I was told has a special theme. One week it may be Extempore Speeches, the next recitation of a well known speech etc. Last night, to my horror, was poetry night and everyone was asked to bring along their favourite poem.
Not having a favourite poem (only a most hated one) I decided to ask a neighbour for hers and went prepared to read “When you are old” by W.B Yeats.

As I sat there waiting to be called to read it was clear that the chairman was going to leave me to the very last. I listened to poem after poem realising that my fear and dislike of the subject had barely gone away after all these years. Up before me was a lady called Irene.
She proudly announced to the group “The poem I have pleasure in reading for you this evening is the wonderful  “Blackberry Picking” by Seamus Heaney.
Strange world innit?

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