In this article
, Jeanette Winterson writes:
I had no one to help me, but the T.S. Eliot helped me. So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy.
So it was for me. Books saved my life, and gave me a life. I grew up in Maryhill, Glasgow, a Third World hidden within the First. The only physical contact I knew was violence, and most days the best I could hope for was not to be hungry. It was in books that I learned about something called love. Books became my parents and my friends. In a world that told me I did not matter, T.S. Eliot, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson told me that I did. Ancient Chinese poets taught me that the moon and stars viewed by the Buddha were the same ones I could see from the window of a rat-infested cold-water tenement. While those around me could see only the next drink, Edwin Morgan’s From Glasgow to Saturn
revealed geography - physical, psychological, spiritual - to me. Most of us knew we were being treated like vermin, but I knew how and why, because Karl Marx and George Orwell told me. And the books, all of them, told me that I wasn’t alone, that there was a conversation, and I could join it, and I did.
Without books, I think I would be in prison or on the street, if I was even still breathing. If you think books are not essential to survival, you have never had to find ways to survive.
William Carlos Williams knew:
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.