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February 28, 2021

There are days in the circle of the year that carry an emotional weight. Children’s birthdays, parents’ death-days, anniversaries of weddings and disasters. I didn’t know the reason for my heavy heart last Sunday until I remembered that it was the day my father died 41 years ago, much younger than I am now.

On Monday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti died aged 101. One of the most influential poets of his generation. I saw his spellbinding performance at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall in London. June 11th 1965. Keele to London and back the same night by thumb. Does anyone hitch-hike nowadays? 

John Keats died 200 years ago on Tuesday, aged 25. His poetry is still resonant and memorable, still popular, still on the GCSE curriculum, still being learnt by heart as I did many years ago.

By heart

Imagine – I am sixteen
and suffering my first heartbreak.
English homework this week:

learn a stanza from Keats’s
Ode to a Nightingale. In class
Miss Wilson asks me to recite.

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
to cease upon the midnight with no pain …
Someone giggles. Someone guffaws.

To thy high requiem become a sod.
An explosion of mirth.
Miss Wilson tries to hide a smile.

Did I get it wrong?
No, says Miss Wilson,
you said it as if you meant it.

Next Friday will be the fourteenth anniversary of the car-bombing of the booksellers’ quarter in Baghdad. Commemorative readings have been held around the world every year since then.
Here is the title poem from my book “What is a Book?” made for the Al-Mutanabbi Street Project in an edition of 26. One is in the Jaffe Collection at Florida Atlantic University and one is in the Library of Alexandria in Egypt.

Posted by Ama Bolton 28 February 2021

10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2021 2:47 pm

    What a lovely moving piece, thank you.

  2. February 28, 2021 2:52 pm

    Great post with so much information. I loved the poem.

  3. February 28, 2021 4:33 pm

    ‘by heart’ is lovely

  4. February 28, 2021 6:43 pm

    Thank you Jo. Not all poems are literally true, but this one is!

  5. March 1, 2021 6:21 am

    Lovely post, especially By Heart.

    Ferlinghetti was booked for the 20th anniversary Poetry International in, presumably, 1985 too, which my brother and I went to, but he’d just been in a car crash, so he was replaced by another key Beat, Gregory Corso. Did you go to that too? I wish I has seen Ferlinghetti read, though Corso was wonderful. And Ginsberg headlined, very movingly accompanying himself reading Kaddish (the poem).

    • March 1, 2021 10:11 am

      Thank you Matthew. Nice of you to write. No, I didn’t go to the 20th anniversary. In 1985 I had a toddler and a new baby to occupy me! Sorry I missed that, but one can’t do everything.

      • March 1, 2021 6:26 pm

        You certainly can’t! And you went to the original and, by the sounds of it, the best.

  6. rachaelcly permalink
    March 1, 2021 5:58 pm

    Yes, by heart. Both beautiful poems Ama.


  1. Poetry Blog Digest 2021, Week 8 – Via Negativa

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