Ode to a Cactus Plant – adventures in teenage poetry

Have you ever written a toe-curlingly dreadful poem, and sent it to your national broadcaster, just for a laugh? And were you laughing on the other side of your face when said broadcaster read it out over the national airwaves on a primetime radio show, and sent you a generous cheque for the privilege? Yes, dear reader, this actually happened … it was the summer of ’85, when I was but a fledgling writer, with absolutely no sense.

I had forgotten all about this until, in an effort to update my rather sparse writing resume´, I did some careful research – aka online lurking – to see what other writers were putting on their blogs/websites/bios.

What happened is this … I had sent ‘Ode To A Cactus Plant’ to the Gay Byrne radio show on RTE Radio 1, expecting a terse note about wasting the producers’ time. When the anticipated envelope arrived, it contained a note saying that the poem had been read live on air by Gay Byrne himself, a cheque for over £100 with my name on it (huzzah!), and an invitation to speak about poetry on a live children’s television programme the following Saturday.

Speechless? You could say that. (The name of the children’s programme escapes me – well, it WAS 30 years ago, so if you think you remember what it was, please let me know in the comments below!)

On the television programme, I spoke about the fun of writing and my ‘success’ as a teenage poet because, in addition to the national glory of ‘Ode to A Cactus Plant’, my English teacher had sent another poem, ‘Pavement Picasso’ to a short-lived Dublin newspaper, and they had published that one too. (They sent me a wash-in hair colour sachet as payment. Oh, how delighted I was!)

The presenter asked me to read out a different poem, so I subjected them to my first ever Haiku – although, now that I know what Haiku and Senryu actually are, I realise it wasn’t actually either:

They say happiness is a blue bird
I met a blue budgie once
It bit me

One of the cameramen got the giggles, and the floor manager chortled rather loudly, which surprised me, because I had written it as a serious piece about man’s search for happiness and the dangers of avian malice.

As for Ode to a Cactus Plant, I shall post it in its entirety another day, because I’ve forgotten most of it. But, just to give you a flavour, here’s the first stanza:

by Patricia Groves

O! To be a cactus plant
and in a greenhouse stand.
I’d be small and spiky
with a needle for my hand.
My friends and I would sit and chat and
We’d talk about the weather at night
and dream of desert skies.
Will it rain or will it shine?
We honestly don’t know.
It doesn’t really matter
when you in a greenhouse grow.

My brief career in rhyme ended as suddenly as it began, and I stopped writing poetry, preferring instead to read other people’s. And, I’m sure you will agree, after such a promising beginning, how could I possibly improve on the perfection that was ‘Ode to a Cactus Plant’.

You may ask yourself what this blog post is all about. It’s not about good poetry, that’s for sure! I think the point I’m trying to make is to simply put your work out there – send out the poem, upload the sample chapter to your blog, enter that competition – because you just never know when success will ambush you.

So do something positive today with a piece of writing – it doesn’t matter what – just do it!

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