Poetry & My Grandfather

Poetry & My Grandfather

by Annie Mahaffey, Prose Staff

My grandfather and I love to talk about poetry. 

When I was growing up, we didn’t always have much common ground to converse about. He was and is very kind, and interested in my school activities, and how my hometown football team was doing, but that was about the extent of our conversations. He would always ask to sit next to me at restaurants, and we laughed a lot, but there was still so much I didn’t know about him. 

This changed on Thanksgiving of my junior year of high school. We were sitting at the bar of my aunt and uncle’s kitchen in silence, and the rest of the family was in another room entirely. We had already exhausted our usual topics of conversation. 

Out of the blue, he started reciting poetry, maybe more to himself, or maybe to me. I was confused and intrigued because I didn’t know he even liked poetry, much less had quite a few of his favorite poems memorized. 

I asked him, stunned, how long he had been enjoying poetry, and he told me his whole life. He asked me how I felt about it and I shared with him that I felt the same. We discussed our favorite poems and promised to look up each other’s favorites and share our thoughts when we next met.

I decided I would make him a poetry book that year as a Christmas gift with our favorite poems in it, both his and mine, and I could send him new poems to put in the book as I found them. (In case you were curious, his initial favorite poems that he shared with me were “If” by Rudyard Kipling, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Lord Alfred Tennyson, and “In Flanders Fields” by Andrew Macphail and John McCrae. He and I share a taste for poems in form.)

My first semester of college, I took my first year writing seminar on World War I poetry and literature with Andrea Hearn (an excellent professor; this was by far one of my favorite classes). I found so many new poems that I had never heard before, such as “Vitai Lampada” by Sir Henry Newbolt and “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” by Wiliam Butler Yeats. I sent along almost every poem we read for that course to my grandfather, who loved them just as I did. Having that connection my first semester away from home was something I could rely on. And I did depend on it. 

I realized early on that war poems were my grandfather’s favorite. He appreciates a large variety, however, and is quick to be honest with me on what he likes and what he doesn’t like (Joyce Kilmer is a particular favorite of his, just as he is one of mine). 

Since Thanksgiving Day 2016, every time my grandfather and I have talked on the phone or in person, we have discussed poetry without fail. Our conversations are still filled with laughter, too, and stories from his past (which I love to hear), but they are also so substantive when we talk about poetry. By revealing our favorite poems to each other, we have revealed a part of ourselves. And I’m so thankful for that.

He texted me a few days ago to tell me that he was looking through Christmas poetry, and that he was hoping to get my thoughts on the subject the next time we talk. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to it. 

Ross Roberts (c.1950)

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