Yesterday was National Poetry Day. It slid by like a dirty old van in rush-hour traffic. It's one of those forced-jollity events that lacks the energy to be even the least divisive. Contentious views on the subject of The Nation's Favourite Poem will not have them manning the barricades.
In vox-pop interviews, the few members of the public who could recall any poem at all, thought that Kipling's "If" a good choice. This sturdy, sentimental study in morality and self-reliance is long enough to make an impact on those people unused to closer study of poetic works (Postmodernism!? What's that?!) yet compact enough (always a useful attribute in poems) that whole passages might be commited to memory without troubling the unsuspecting reader.
I think that such moderate commitment is useful. Like a clock ticking away on the mantel, it serves its purpose, maintains the schedule and requires neither food nor water to allow us the benefit of its function.
To study poems as they are studied at university, for example, is to chase them around the room, corner them (hear them howl!) interject finely-wrought discussions about the elements of style, political persuasion and gender subtexts, before finally abandoning the part-skinned, bloodied carcass as a job well done.
I, too, if asked my favourite poem, might choose from a long list that included "Fern Hill" and "Death Shall Have No Dominion", or "Dover Beach" or perhaps something by Ted Hughes or Philip Larkin. By then, I would begin to second-guess myself, thinking I should include something by Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and who was that guy everyone was talking about a few years ago....
There's no accounting for taste, even when we're told what we should like. "If" only.