Ella Jolly takes poetry on the road

It is possible to draw many literary allusions out of my somewhat nomadic situation as Reader-in-Residence. Some days, days when the trains are delayed (or worse, cancelled), when my laboriously photocopied sheaves of extracts vanish, when the skies seem to do nothing but rain and rain – it is tempting to compare myself to the long-suffering Willy Loman from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. As I wander from office to depot, peddling poetry and other literary goods, I realise that what can often make or break the deal is not the poem itself, but how I present it. Those days I feel more like a salesperson than a reader.

And then there are the precious hours, the golden days, where I can be appropriately figured as the wide-eyed speaker in Keats’ sonnet of discovery, On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer. Firstly, the references to travelling are particularly fitting as during the last three months I have voyaged through ‘realms of gold’ and ‘many goodly states and kingdoms seen’. It would also be accurate to describe my whole life so far as a sort of quest for literary engagement, and one which was heightened by three years devoted to the study of literature. Yet it is only in recent months that I have felt like Keats’ speaker, ‘some watcher of the skies’ discovering a ‘new planet’, or ‘stout Cortez’ glimpsing the blue of the Pacific Ocean for the very first time. This is, I think, not necessarily because I am reading new literature, but reading in new ways.

One of the most popular texts for Get Into Reading groups in Bibby is e.e.cummings glorious poem of celebration, I thank you God for most this amazing day. Whether we’re reading in a credit control office wearing suits, or a warehouse wearing high-visibility vests, each reading feels like the first. The diverse and various opinions inspired by cummings’ poem constantly remake my reading of it. Literature is capable of dispersing a myriad of intellectual and emotional responses in the same manner that a prism refracts white light and creates a rainbow. Those days I feel like both reader and intrepid explorer. And I look forward to many more rainbows in the months to come (as well as, of course, delayed trains*, lost extracts and, this being Britain, lots and lots of rain).

* Even as I write this, I’m sitting in Crewe Railway Station, waiting for a very late train!


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