In the news today is Dame Judi Dench's revelation that she learns a poem every day to keep her mind active. This tidbit is as tantalising as it is exciting. It would be fascinating to find out how many years she has been doing this, whether she could still remember the poems she has learned, are there any poems that seem to pop up in the memory … and so on. (If only she could be persuaded to participate in our survey!)
Equally of interest to me is what she says about where her love of poetry came from. Asked in an interview at the Stratford-Upon-Avon Poetry Festival whether there was poetry in her family, she replied. “Absolutely – my father would come upstairs in a morning while I was asleep and wake me up with verse: “Awake, for morning in the bowl of night has cast the stone that puts the stars to flight”, he would shout in my bedroom. Daddy knew the whole of Tennyson’s Morte D’Arthur by heart, he was a lovely man.”
In our previous research project, a much smaller study of local poetry teachers, we found that the teachers who knew some poetry by heart had all had a parent who recited poetry to them as children – and it was nearly always a father. Our sample was by no means large enough to make any claims about this, but evidence from this other sources certainly supports the idea that poetry is transmitted in vivo. And the idea that it might tend to come down through fathers is a most intriguing one.
Did you ‘inherit’ a love of poetry? Do come and tell us about it!