There's a scene in Alan Bennett's The History Boys when they talk about poetry. When this is announced, one of the boys (the now famous James Corden - who incidentally shares my birthday, how strange) groans, explaining that he doesn't always understand poetry. Hector, the teacher, replies, "Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now, and you'll understand it whenever."
Timms continues to protest, saying, "I don't see how we can understand it. Most of the stuff poetry's about hasn't happened to us yet."
And Hector replies, "But it will, Timms. It will. And then you will have the antidote ready! Grief. Happiness. Even when you're dying. ... Poetry is the trailer. Forthcoming attractions!"
Later, when talking to another pupil about Hardy's poem Drummer Hodge, Hector says, "The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought particular and special to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, someone you've never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours."
I've been thinking about these scenes quite a bit in the last few days, because I experienced both this weekend. Picking up my moleskine - which I use sort of as a commonplace book, writing in poems of prose fragments or quotes or adverts or anything I don't want to forget - I came across a fragment of i like my body when it is with your by e e cummings:
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
Incomplete, of course - I found it on a sheet of paper at school and only recently realised the poem continues (and is much more explicitly erotic). But I quote this section because this is how I've always read the poem (and that's a discussion in its own right - in my ignorance I interpreted the "final" line very differently from how I do now I know it continues, so which interpretation is correct?).
So this weekend, I re-read this poem. And suddenly, it made sense. It was true, and applicable to me, now, in a way it has never been before. Because unlike Timms, and unlike the me who read this first time round, it's happened to me. I'm insecure about my body - find me someone who isn't! - but then I met someone, and when I'm with him, I'm not insecure at all. I don't care about the stomach or the dimply thighs or the eczema scars - in fact, I feel sexy and beautiful. New.
So ee cummings? Snap. Take my hand.