"Why are there beings at all instead of nothing?" That is the question. Yes, Heidegger, that's a pretty good originary question. I might go further back and ask why is there matter at all? But an originary question one gets asked a lot is "What first got you into poetry?" and variations thereof.
I had two 'big bangs' or inflations, or 'mini-bangs'. One courtesy of Auden when I was about 13 but one much earlier, when I was about seven years old, courtesy of Miss Campbell and Beowulf.
Ah, Miss Campbell, exotic and intoxicating on so many levels: a substitute teacher (a fresh face), an energetically tousled redhead, a lover of poetry, and a Canadian. In Huddersfield, at the start of the 70s – man's footprints freshly planted on the Moon – Miss Campbell was a sign of futurity and opportunity for me.
When the time came for her to leave ahead of our seemingly endless six-week summer holidays, she chose to leave us with two things on that poignant Friday afternoon: proper fresh popcorn and Beowulf.
Having only eaten pre-packaged, sweet soggy cardboard like Butterkist, I'd never seen popcorn made like this. I didn't know you could make it. Actual, neutron star-dense kernels of real corn. Hot oil. A sealed pan. A hail storm within the pan, and then an overflow of bright white and yellow corn-novae. Miraculous. But more so after butter and salt were added. From that day on my tooth became a savoury tooth and has remained so.
And, as we munched, she turned herself into live cinema by reading a modern translation of Beowulf to us. Terrifying. Suspenseful. Gory. Electrifying. I've no idea which translation she read to us. Look at how many there are:
but it made me realise how exciting, troubling, suspenseful and entertaining poetry could be. Not that it always is. And not that is should be or has to be. But it was a great start for a seven-year old.
Years later I relished Seamus Heaney's 1999 version, which translates "Hwæt!" as "So." which is exactly how my Irish aunties begin every new story: "So."
if you've heard this one before: the lands up north,
hoar-bent, frost-locked, need deeper plows
to dig them. Here is one.
I haven't ventured much further than this yet but I'm on my way, with my popcorn, and memories of Miss Campbell.