I have never been much of a fan of poetry. Like most people who did English GCSE in the late ’90s, I had a book with a selected slew of poetry which we studied, dissected and ground into meaninglessness, regurgitated arguments and learnt to be annoyed, rather than delighted, by someone’s careful choices of words.
Such is my love for every other form of word usage that I’ve never really re-engaged with poetry. I haven’t tried, I suppose, or found anything I liked, bar the John Betjeman and Pam Ayres that Radio 4 occasionally gifted me with. Because I liked them, I supposed they didn’t count as poetry.
The only significant exception occurred about twelve years ago, I had a dear friend to whom I related my dislike of poetry. When my next birthday rolled around, he handed me a slim green book and said, “I know you don’t like poetry…but I think you’ll like this.”
He was right, as he was about many things. The book was Aleksander Ristovic’s Devil’s Lunch. Ristovic’s poetry, translated from the Serbian by Charles Simic, is just…everything I always wished poetry would be, whenever I thought I didn’t like it. It’s been a book I pick up over and over again, when I need something small, when I need to remember that words can go together in all sorts of ways, when I need to smile, or sigh, or breathe syllables.
This entry is inspired by the marvellous Hannah Swithinbank’s call for recordings of beloved poetry. And I thought, I haven’t read a poem out loud since school. And it was a joy and a pleasure and a treat to come home and record four short poems of Ristovic’s even just for myself, but I hope that you too will find something to like. None last longer than a minute, and all, I think, are a marvel of concise and brilliant language.
Without further ado, here they are: