How Beano and Dandy artist Dudley D. Watkins made generations of comic fans roar with laughter




David Anderson, Swansea University

You may not be familiar with the name Dudley Dexter Watkins, but chances are you will recognise his art. Half a century after his death, the work of the talented British comic strip artist and illustrator is as well known, and as much loved, as it has ever been. Characters such as Desperate Dan, who Watkins illustrated for The Dandy comic, and Lord Snooty for The Beano, have remained favourites for many years, their silly antics and predicaments now kept alive by other artists.

This summer, a trail of outdoor statues has been placed across Scotland featuring one of Watkins’ most popular creations, Oor Wullie, who appeared alongside The Broons in The Sunday Post newspaper from 1936 until Watkins’ death in 1969.

Born the son of a lithograph artist in Greater Manchester in 1907, Watkins was just a few months old when his family moved to Nottingham. It was there that his artistic talents were first recognised. Encouraged by his father, Watkins took up a place at Nottingham School of Art. His first opportunity to see his drawings in print came soon after. The chemist Boots, where Watkins worked in the window display department, published his cartoons and illustrations in staff magazine The Beacon.

By 1925, Watkins had moved to Scotland where his work caught the eye of publishing house D.C. Thomson. Aged just 18, he joined the Dundee-based company, an employment that would last more than 40 years. During this time, Watkins created some of Britain’s most iconic comic characters.

In his first decade with Thomson, Watkins worked on a group of boys’ weekly action papers known as “The Big Five” – Adventure, The Rover, The Wizard, The Skipper and The Hotspur. These publications experimented with the comic strip format and focused on sport, school and war adventure stories. Watkins produced many of the front covers for The Big Five, and contributed comic strips to small format supplements that accompanied The Rover and The Skipper.

In 1936, when Thomson produced a supplement to The Sunday Post named The Fun Section, the spikey-haired, dungaree-clad Oor Wullie and the close-knit working-class Broons family were born. Written in Scots dialect, the capers of these characters, drawn weekly by Watkins for more than three decades, still feature in the newspaper today.

The look of these characters has changed little since their first appearance. It is this sense of regularity and reassurance that still arouses nostalgia in generations of readers, fuelled by an inexhaustible range of associated books, clothing and other merchandise.




Read more:
The Sunday Post: how Scotland’s sleepiest newspaper silenced the detractors


Spurred on by the success of The Fun Section, Thomson released two new comics for boys and girls: The Dandy in December 1937 and The Beano in July 1938. These launches brought into being some of Watkins’ most recognisable characters including Desperate Dan, Lord Snooty and Biffo the Bear.

Based on an idea by editor Albert Barnes, cow-pie-eating Desperate Dan, one of Watkins’ most enduring creations, debuted in the first issue of The Dandy. In the black-and-white half-page strip, Dan is seen purchasing a horse that promptly collapses under the cowboy’s considerable weight. Watkins apparently based Dan’s super-sized square-jaw on Barnes’s own chin, and Dan’s exaggerated toughness – he shaves with a blowtorch and shoots a bullet through his hair to part it – personified the robust humour of The Dandy.

Watkins’ peers acknowledged his rare talent. He was said to draw at lightning speed, effortlessly encapsulating the wit and wonder of his distinctive comic characters. Such was the importance of Watkins’ work, he was exempted from active military service during World War II and instead served as a war reserve constable in Fife. In 1946, Watkins began signing and initialling his published work, a privilege afforded to only a few comic strip artists in those days (it also ensured his loyalty to Thomson following attempts by a rival publisher to lure him away from Dundee).




Read more:
How The Beano survived war and the web to reach its 80th birthday


Wartime paper shortages forced The Dandy and The Beano into a fortnightly publishing schedule, but by the 1950s not only had Thomson returned to weekly editions of these comics, it had launched two other, tabloid-style, publications – The Topper and The Beezer. Watkins was tasked with illustrating the front cover characters, introducing Mickey the Monkey and Ginger to a new generation of humour comic fans.

A prolific artist, Watkins’ output extended beyond his Thomson portfolio. Inspired by his Christian faith, he often led Bible discussions and delivered illustrated talks on religious themes to children at the Church of Christ in Dundee. In his spare time, he also drew strip cartoons for Young Warrior, a children’s paper published by the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade.

Watkins died at his drawing desk in 1969, aged 62. His artwork, particularly his early strips in comics and annuals, have become increasingly collectable, connecting with current trends for childhood nostalgia. While many fans still display the same affection for Watkins’ characters that they felt as children, the way in which we experience comic strip art alters as we grow up. While as children we simply loved how the drawings captured tongue-in-cheek humour, as adults we are able to view with a more mature appreciation the creative endeavour gone into producing them.

Watkins’ work, and his dedication to it, is still highly impressive. Considered a quiet, pious man during his lifetime, Watkins’ lasting fame rests on the high-quality comic artwork and illustrations to which he devoted so much of his life.The Conversation

David Anderson, Senior Lecturer in Political and Cultural Studies, Swansea University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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What should politicians be reading at parliamentary book club? Our experts make their picks


Jane Howard, The Conversation

You might picture a book club around your neighbour’s coffee table, or over beers at the local pub – but what if it took place in Parliament House?

This is the question being asked by Books Create Australia as they open up nominations for their inaugural parliamentary book club. Anyone can nominate an Australian book written in the last five years to their MP or senator, and one book will be picked for all participating representatives to read.

From fiction to essays to poetry, we asked our experts for their recommendations.

Portable Curiosities

For this crowd, I’d recommend Julie Koh’s Portable Curiosities (UQP, 2016). It’s a sharp and funny collection of stories that expanded my sense of what it is to be Australian. On the assumption that parliamentarians skew demographically to my (Anglo, male, privileged, economically secure) demographic, they too deserve a bit of satirical poking with Koh’s delicate and sharp instruments.

What would it be like to be a young, poor, bright woman born of Asian immigrants in our wealthy but extremely expensive cities? Many thousands are living exactly that, and millions are living parts of it. Koh provides a dark yet joyous window on that world. It wouldn’t do our representatives any harm to look through it for a bit.

Recommended for: our Anglo, male parliamentarians.

-Robert Phiddian, English Professor

A Sand Archive

Gregory Day’s A Sand Archive (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018) deals with perhaps the most crucial issue we face – environmental management – in lyrical mode. FB Herschell is an engineer concerned about how to maintain the Great South Road against the constant shifting of the sands on which they are built.

He selects marram grass to stabilise the dunes, but further research reveals that marram, an introduced species, harms the dunes, seabirds, and native plants. His appeals to reverse this, and all his evidence, fail to shift the local council, but the writings he leaves put on record the value of the environment, and the capacity of scientific investigation to help it heal.

Recommended for: Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley

–Jen Webb, Director of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research

#MeToo: Stories from the Australian movement

Given the fact violence towards women is a national crisis, I would recommend #Me Too: Stories from the Australian movement (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2019), an anthology I co-edited. This book gives an overview of the problem of violence towards women and non-binary people in Australia. Through a myriad of different and diverse voices it points to the insidiousness of sexual violence and traces the roots of this problem to the everyday sexism which still permeates Australian culture. The book also offers ideas about how we might find a way through this crisis and into a more equitable and safer Australia.

Recommended for: Prime Minister Scott Morrison

–Natalie Kon-yu, Lecturer in Literature and Gender Studies

The Natural Way of Things

In Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things (Allan & Unwin, 2015), women who accuse men of sexual harassment or are themselves accused of illicit or improper sexuality are imprisoned and isolated in an outback prison. It’s like an Australian version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

Because it reads like a dystopian fantasy, it might be easy to dismiss the novel as “unrealistic”. But it is ruthless in its analysis of the way contemporary news media and gossip cycles still demonise and sexualise women. The novel explores the very different ways women resist or accommodate to their treatment; but it is really about the structures of patriarchy, influential far beyond the confines of the nuclear heterosexual family.

Recommended for: any male politician who says he is sympathetic to women because he is married to one or has daughters.

–Stephanie Trigg, English Literature Professor

Writing to the Wire

I must acknowledge a possible conflict of interest here by noting that I have a poem in this anthology, but Writing to the Wire (UWA Publishing, 2019) is an extraordinarily powerful collection of poems by and about maritime asylum seekers. The anthology includes poems by senior and emerging Australian poets, and work by those who “would like to be Australians”, as the book’s blurb puts it. As the editors write in their introduction, Writing to the Wire is a little like “bashing your head against a brick wall [but also] very much a book of hope”.

Three years later, the editors and the contributors to this anthology — not to mention those indefinitely detained by the Australian government — are still hoping.

Recommended for: the whole parliament.

-David McCooey, Writing and Literature Professor

Hearing Maud: A Journey for a Voice

Hearing Maud (UWA Publishing, 2019) by Jessica White is a beautifully told story about two people living nearly one hundred years apart, and their experience of deafness. The first is the author herself, Jessica White, who suffered significant and permanent hearing loss following an illness at the age of four. The other is Maud Praed, the daughter of the Australian writer Rosa Praed (1851-1935). Jessica looks into the life of this forgotten daughter of a largely forgotten writer and finds haunting parallels with her own situation. The story is an insider’s account of hearing impairment but, more than this, reminds everyone — not least legislators and policy makers — that what we call disability has an interior life.

Recommended for: Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston and the Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme Stuart Robert

–Tony Hughes-D’aeth, English and Cultural Studies Professor

Dark Emu

In Dark Emu (Magabala Books, 2014), Bruce Pascoe amasses a cogent case that Indigenous Australians farmed their land, lived in villages, built houses, harvested cereals and built complex aquaculture systems – and how settler Australians wilfully misunderstood this.

Occupying the western Sydney fringe, Ed Husic’s electorate of Chifley has the rare distinction of a border that follows an important waterway (South Creek) and contains significant colonial-Darug contact sites. Western Sydney is home today to Australia’s largest Aboriginal population; the Aboriginal Land Council is the largest non-government land holder; and some 46 Indigenous organisations are working to sustain their community.

Recommended for: Ed Husic, MP for Chifley

–Heidi Norman, Social and Political Sciences Professor

hope for whole: poets speak up to Adani

It’s hard to go past The Swan Book (Alexis Wright) for its testimony regarding the climate crisis and the NT intervention, and Jess Hill’s new book See What You Made Me Do on the endemic of domestic abuse. But I’m settling on hope for whole: poets speak up to Adani (Plumwood Mountain, 2018) featuring many of Australia’s finest poets. Anne Elvey and Plumwood Journal: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics hosted Poets Speak up to Adani Day of Action in 2017, an event during which poets poemed protests at Adani for 12 hours. The resulting anthology is even more pertinent post-Federal election, and the recent diplomacy fail in Tuvalu.

Recommended for: all parliamentarians who support the mine or seem soft on climate action.

–Meera Atkinson, Creative Writing Lecturer

No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

Reading expands our capacity for empathy. It forces us to exercise our ethical imagination by putting ourselves into somebody else’s situation; particularly somebody who may be unlike us in the way they think, speak, or feel, or in the situations that they face. No Friend But the Mountains (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2018), Behrouz Boochani’s work of prose poetry, sent out in text messages from Manus Island, bears witness to death, torture and traumatic deprivation. It asks its reader not to treat the fresh hell it narrates as an anomaly but to understand “Manus Prison” as part of a system of oppression and injustice that is far larger, and ongoing. But to learn from Boochani’s text, the reader must give themselves to the work, and read with generosity.

These values may be of assistance to all members of the parliamentary book club.

–Camilla Nelson, Media ProfessorThe Conversation

Jane Howard, Deputy Section Editor: Arts + Culture, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Macmillan to Embargo Ebooks to Libraries


The link below is to an article that reports on Macmillan placing an embargo on all ebooks to libraries.

For more visit:
https://goodereader.com/blog/digital-library-news/macmillan-is-going-to-embargo-all-ebooks-to-libraries-by-2-months

Shortlists for the 2019 Ned Kelly Awards


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the shortlists for the 2019 Ned Kelly Awards.

For more visit:
https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2019/08/19/the-2019-ned-kelly-award-finalists-are-here/

Why do I dwell on the past?



Dwelling on the past, like writing in a diary, is part of being human and helps us form our identity. But not all memories are helpful.
from www.shutterstock.com

Laura Jobson, Monash University

Many of us enjoy writing in a diary, reading autobiographies or nostalgically reflecting with others about past times.

Why is remembering our past so important? Are there downsides? And what can we do if dwelling on the past bothers us?




Read more:
Explainer: what is memory?


Memories make us human

Over several decades, researchers have shown remembering your past is fundamental to being human, and has four important roles.

1. Memories help form our identity

Our personal memories give us a sense of continuity — the same person (or sense of self) moving through time. They provide important details of who we are and who we would like to be.




Read more:
Why we remember our youth as one big hedonistic party


2. Memories help us solve problems

Memories offer us potential solutions to current problems and help guide and direct us when solving them.




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Most people think playing chess makes you ‘smarter’, but the evidence isn’t clear on that


3. Memories make us social

Personal memories are essential for social interactions. Being able to recall personal memories provides important material when making new friends, forming relationships and maintaining ones we already have.




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The power of ‘our song’, the musical glue that binds friends and lovers across the ages


4. Memories help us regulate our emotions

Our memories provide examples of similar situations we’ve been in before. This allows us to reflect on how we managed that emotion before and what we can learn from that experience.

Such memories can also help us manage strong negative emotions. For example, when someone is feeling sad they can take time to dwell on a positive memory to improve their mood.




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Health Check: how food affects mood and mood affects food


Memories help us function in our wider society

Dwelling on our personal memories not only helps us as individuals. It also allows us to operate in our socio-cultural context; society and culture influence the way we remember our past.

For instance, in Western individualistic cultures people tend to recall memories that are long, specific, detailed and focus on the individual.

In contrast, in East Asian cultures people tend to recall more general memories focusing on social interactions and significant others. Researchers have seen these differences in children and adults.




Read more:
‘Remember when we…?’ Why sharing memories is soul food


Indeed, the way parents discuss past events with their children differs culturally.

Parents from Western cultures focus more on the child and the child’s thoughts and emotions than East Asian parents. So, there are even cultural differences in the ways we teach our children to dwell on the past.

People from Western individualistic cultures tend to recollect specific unique memories that reaffirm someone’s uniqueness, a value emphasised in Western cultures. In contrast, in East Asian cultures memories function to assist with relatedness and social connection, a value emphasised in East Asian cultures.

Memories and ill health

As dwelling on the past plays such a crucial role in how we function as humans, it is unsurprising that disruptions in how we remember arise in several psychological disorders.

People with depression, for instance, tend to remember more negative personal memories and fewer positive personal memories than those without depression. For example, someone with depression may remember failing an exam rather than remembering their academic successes.

People with depression are more likely to remember the bad times rather than the good.
from www.shutterstock.com

People with depression also have great difficulty remembering something from a specific time and place, for instance “I really enjoyed going to Sam’s party last Thursday”. Instead they provide memories of general experiences, for instance, “I like going to parties”.

We have found people with depression also tend to structure their life story differently and report more negative life stories. They also tend to remember periods of their life, such as going to university, as either distinctly positive or negative (rather than a combination of both).

Disturbances in memory are also the hallmarks of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is when unwanted, distressing personal memories of the trauma spontaneously pop into the mind.




Read more:
Explainer: what is post-traumatic stress disorder?


People with anxiety disorders also tend to have biases when remembering their personal past. For instance, all of us, unfortunately, experience social blunders from time to time, such as tripping getting onto a bus or spilling a drink at a party. However, people with social anxiety are more likely to be consumed with feelings of embarrassment and shame when remembering these experiences.




Read more:
Explainer: what is social anxiety disorder?


Finally, an excessive, repetitive dwelling on your past, without generating solutions, can be unhelpful. It can result in emotional distress and in extreme instances, emotional disorders, such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I don’t want to dwell on the past. What can I do?

If dwelling on the past bothers you, these practical tips can help.

Set aside a certain time of the day for your memories. You could write in a diary or write down your worries. Writing about important personal experiences in an emotional way for as little as 15 minutes a day can improve your mental and physical health.

Practice remembering specific positive memories from your past. This can allow you to engage differently with your memories and gain a new perspective on your memories.

Learn and practise mindfulness strategies. Instead of dwelling on painful memories, a focus on the present moment (such as attending to your breath, focusing on what you can currently see, smell or hear) can help break a negative cycle

When dwelling on past memories try being proactive and generate ideas to solve problems rather than just being passive.

See your GP or health practitioner if you’re distressed about dwelling on your past.


If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.The Conversation

Laura Jobson, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Jungle Book: look closely, there’s more to Rudyard Kipling than colonial stereotypes



Netflix

Sue Walsh, University of Reading

Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books were first published in 1894 and 1895, and they feature stories about Mowgli, a boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. The stories have remained popular and have inspired numerous adaptations – but their attitudes have been questioned by some parents and critics, who see them as a relic of Britain’s colonial past.

Indeed, a classic way of reading the tales is as an allegory for the position of the white colonialist born and raised in India. Mowgli – the Indian boy who becomes “master” of the jungle – is understood to be – as Kipling scholar John McClure interprets it: “behaving towards the beasts as the British do to the Indians”.

So its interesting that among the wide variety of music to be performed at the 2019 Proms is Charles Koechlin’s Les Bandar-log. It’s a piece that he wrote in the first half of the 20th century as part of his nearly life-long effort to set the whole of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book to music. As a scholar whose focus has been both on Kipling’s children’s literature and, more broadly, the representation of animals in children’s fiction, I’ve been asked to take part in a BBC Radio 3 Proms Plus talk on the subject.

The classic account of Kipling, while persuasive in many ways, seems to me to be a bit limited. It misses some of the interesting questions the stories raise about notions of belonging and identity.

The standard account relies on the idea that the human and animal identities within the stories are clearly distinguished from each other and fixed – and that this fixed distinction extends via allegory to white colonial and Indian identities.

Fluid identities

But what happens to our understanding of the stories if we don’t treat the human and animal identities as distinct? I would argue that a species name doesn’t necessarily fix a character’s identity in the reader’s mind’s eye.

For example, Bagheera, the black panther, is described in terms of a series of other animals: he is “as cunning as Tabaqui [the jackal], as bold as the wild buffalo, and as reckless as the wounded elephant”. Attributes that are supposedly intrinsic to one animal can be found in another. Like Bagheera, Mowgli describes himself in terms of other animals: “Mowgli the Frog have I been […] Mowgli the Wolf have I said that I am. Now Mowgli the Ape must I be before I am Mowgli the Buck,” and it is this process of transformation that will lead to the end in which he will become “Mowgli the Man”. In this way he blurs the distinction between himself and the other jungle inhabitants.

This undermines narratives of essential difference between species. If we follow this through with respect to the common allegorical reading that sets Mowgli apart from the animals, it also undermines claims that there are absolute differences between white colonialists and Indian “natives”.

Also take a closer look at the relationship of the child Mowgli to the inhabitants of the jungle and you’ll see the way this complicates accounts of the Jungle Books as straightforwardly imperialist in character.

Belonging

The Jungle Book stories focus a great deal on the issue of belonging, raising questions about the grounds on which one may claim to belong to a particular group or community: is belonging a matter of being born a member of a group, or is it a matter of convention and social agreement?

Shere Khan, Mowgli’s implacable enemy.
Netflix

Because Mowgli is raised by wolves and initiated into their society he has a hybrid identity. Shere Khan, the tiger, resists Mowgli’s hybrid identity, referring to it as “man-wolf folly”. He claims that his hatred of Mowgli is justified because Mowgli is intrinsically “a man, a man’s child”. On the other hand, Akela, the leader of the wolves, claims kinship with Mowgli on the basis that:

He has eaten our food. He has slept with us. He has driven game for us. He has broken no word of the Law of the Jungle. … He is our brother in all but blood.

For Akela, Mowgli’s belonging is secured by his actions and his conformity with wolf society. Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that the most strident advocate of the idea that identity and belonging are a matter of “blood” is Shere Khan, the villain of the piece.

Nuance and ambiguity

By the end of the first Mowgli story it may seem that those, like Shere Khan, who claim that one’s identity is what one is born to be, carry the day – since Mowgli is cast out of the jungle. Though he speaks of leaving the jungle and going to “his own people”, he also qualifies this with: “if they be my own people” and he also goes on to reassert his claim to be part of the wolf pack when he follows this with the promise: “There shall be no war between any of us in the pack.”

As Daniel Karlin points out in his Penguin Classics edition of The Jungle Books (1987), Kipling changed this in his final collected edition of the stories to: “There shall be no war between any of us and the pack,” and so in the later edition “he already identifies with men”.

Either way, Mowgli does go on to rule the jungle rather than just remain a member of the jungle “family” as seems to be suggested by the recent Disney live-action/CGI film based on the stories. So there are ambiguities there, but a close reading of the Jungle Book stories leads me to feel that there is more to them than an imperialist narrative.

After a century or so during which Kipling has frequently been painted simply as a cheerleader for the “white man” and his burden – and at a time when questions of identity and belonging are particularly relevant for Britain – perhaps it’s time for a more nuanced reading of his classic works that allows their ambiguities and ambivalences to come to the fore.The Conversation

Sue Walsh, Lecturer, Department of English Literature, University of Reading

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Ode to the poem: why memorising poetry still matters for human connection



Committing poetry to memory is so much more than a rote exercise.
Taylor Ann Wright/Unsplash

Veronica Alfano, Australian Catholic University

Memorising poetry was once common in classrooms. But it has, for the most part, gone out of style. There are good reasons for this.

Memorisation can clash with creativity and analytical thought. Rote learning can be seen as mindless, drone-like, something done without really thinking about why we’re doing it and what the thing we memorise might mean.

In other words, it can be counterproductive to learn a poem by heart without understanding its content, knowing anything about its author or historical context, or asking what specific aspects of its language make it powerful and appealing.

Literature instructors tend to focus more on showing students how to conduct careful textual analysis than on having them reproduce poetic lines word-for-word. Analytical skills are crucial, and educators should continue to emphasise them.




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But there is great value in memorisation as well. Internalising a poem need not be a rote process. Done right, in fact, it is an intellectual exercise that illuminates the structure and logic of the text.

Nevermore, evermore, nothing more

A teacher might prompt his or her class to reflect on which patterns of sound (such as rhyme, meter or alliteration) serve as memory aids, asking how these patterns interact with the narrative arc of the poem.

Let’s imagine a student sets out to memorise Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

Here are two lines from that poem:

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain

Thrilled me–filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before

Someone searching for memorable patterns in the language would probably pay close attention to Poe’s internal rhyme: “uncertain” gives us “curtain,” and “thrilled me” prompts “filled me”.

But that same student might also struggle to keep the exact phrasing of the stanzas’ final lines straight, given that all eighteen of them conclude with “nevermore”, “evermore” or “nothing more”.

Most of us will at some point grapple with unhealthy fixations or paranoid fears.
kalpesh patel/Unsplash

This could generate a conversation about the role of repetition in the poem – for instance, perhaps it reflects the obsessive and confused mindset of Poe’s speaker.

Students tasked with memorising poems are often required to speak them aloud as a test of mastery. This, too, has its benefits. Reciting a poem can provide a deep and visceral understanding of its linguistic strategies (think of all those rustling “s” sounds in “silken, sad, uncertain”).




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And when saying the poem aloud, you can hear another consciousness speaking in the cadences of your own voice. Counting out the beats of each line, you may feel the poem’s metrical pulses in your tapping fingers and toes.

In this way, the poem becomes an embodied experience and not merely a printed object.

A rich mental resource

True, reading a poem aloud rather than memorising and reciting it can have similar effects to all those above. But performing that poem without the distracting mediation of the page helps incorporate it more thoroughly into mental life.

In doing so, you can enact the way in which many poems – even as they give voice to a sensibility outside our own – also appeal to us precisely because they seem to articulate our unuttered thoughts and feelings. Reciting a poem without reading it can make it feel like it’s just you talking, not necessarily somebody else.

Memorising poetry provides a rich mental resource of beautiful phrases.
Daniel Hansen/Unsplash

Few of us have dealt with an ominous raven perching in our chambers, but most of us will at some point grapple with unhealthy fixations or paranoid fears.

Memorising poetry, then, is also a kind of long-term investment. To take a poem with us so we can truly know it, we must know it by heart.

When we commit poems to memory, we internalise a voice that may comfort or inspire us in the future. We create a rich mental resource that lets us summon compelling, evocative, finely-crafted language at exactly the moment when it is most relevant to our emotional lives.

Such language both illuminates and is illuminated by our experiences. Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday” begins with these lines:

My heart is like a singing bird

Whose nest is in a watered shoot;

My heart is like an apple-tree

Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit.

For a school child who learns Rossetti’s poem, such metaphors may not be particularly meaningful. But if she carries those lines in her mind over the years, they are likely to take on fresh significance.

If later in life she falls in love or has an intense spiritual experience, they may help her articulate her feelings to herself. Perhaps on a snowy day she will think of Charles Wright’s words: “Things in a fall in a world of fall […]”.




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Perhaps the arrival of a child will remind the former student of Sylvia Plath’s “Love set you going like a fat gold watch”.

Understanding our own sentiments through someone else’s words can provide a thrilling sense of connection, of shared humanity across time and space.

There are certain intellectual advantages to having a wealth of information at our fingertips at all times. But the vast resources that smart phones provide can’t make the beauties and insights of poetic language part of our everyday perspective on the world and fine-tune our emotional vocabulary in the process.

For that, we must still memorise.The Conversation

Veronica Alfano, Research Fellow, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.