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Andy’s story: ‘A Kumquat for John Keats’ Friday, 8 January 2010

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.
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I’ve carried this poem about with me ever since I stopped being a ‘young’ man – ‘A Kumquat for John Keats’ by Tony Harrison. I’m rarely far away from a copy of it and though it’s a couple of pages long, most of it’s lodged in my head anyway. It’s about what counts to make a ‘full life’ – that experience has to be both bitter and sweet. In it he remembers eating kumquats one morning “whole, straight off the tree, sweet pulp and sour skin – or was it sweet outside, and sour within?” and then suggests “the flesh, the juice, the pith, the pips, the peel / that this is how a full life ought to feel”.I’ve come to think of it like a hip flask I can take a nip from whenever I need a pick-me-up. It soars onwards and upwards in heroic couplets that you just have to read out loud – Harrison laughed once in fact when I told him that I couldn’t read it without standing up. But you can’t – it’s poetic HRT.

Andy Pitts borrows books from the Scottish Poetry Library.