Monday, April 1, 2013

National Poetry Month

Well, I certainly didn't start out the writer part of my life writing poetry. It took me decades to even venture into it seriously. But since I have, and since a few poems were published on Verse Wisconsin's online edition last year, and since I will have one or two in a poetry collection from Orbis Books later this year (info to come), and since I have started submitting elsewhere, I have to begin telling myself that I have finally come to poetry and it has sort of welcomed me.

As I have written here before, poetry may have more to say to us than any straight on prose because it touches resonances in the heart and soul that wake up those parts of us that might save us, dominated as we have been trained to be by the rational, logical, understanding mind.

We understand so little, actually, that tapping into these other experiences of knowledge, wisdom, insight, intuitiveness feels crucial to me as we continue our wayward path towards ecological and cultural collapses of various kinds.

Something has gone so wrong with the whole human project on this planet, enormous miscalculations about who we are and our place within life and the universe.

Anyway, I did write a poem when I was about 16. I recited it once under duress at a dinner table with friends whose guests included Ruth Stone after she had just done a magnificent reading at the University of Maryland back around the year 2000. We were trying to coax a young budding teenage poet to read, daughter of my partner at the time, because she was very good (and very dark), and she was resisting. She finally said she would read one of hers if I would read one of mine - but I was not a poet and had not written any poetry at that point, and then these brain cells somewhere deep inside my story woke up and remembered this verse. I could not believe that, in the presence of Stone and two English professor friends (one an Emily Dickinson scholar), I was actually nervous. As I began it was as if everyone drew a breath and held it. The stillness in the room was suffocating (though I am certain that was just me, not my friends). And then I recited:
There were paths in the woods when I was a child.
All is overgrown,
No one walks upon them now,
But I remember them.
And then everyone let go their breath, and Ruth (the poetry gods rest her beautiful soul), exhaled with a loving sigh as if she actually liked it, a sweet little, "ohhh..." It wasn't too bad, you know?

I began writing poems a few years later when I was trying to hone my skills as a writer. That's when I discovered that poetry is a two-way relationship. You come to the poems, they welcome you, and then the poems start coming to you, sometimes in the dark wee hours of the morning and you can't get back to sleep, or on a walk by the lake and so you learn to take a pen and paper with you everywhere you go for fear of missing one.

I have been encouraged along the way by an old friend from my Takoma Park, Maryland, days, Janlori Goldman, who went from being a civil liberties lawyer focused on privacy issues to getting her MFA from Sarah Lawrence and beginning her life as a poet. And I mean, her life as a poet. Her poetry is brilliant, and you can read more about it here.

I have sheepishly shared some poems with her and she keeps nudging me on. We need 'nudgers...'

So I'm going to do something I haven't done here before on this blog, share a whole poem. It arrived around 4:30 a.m. on March 27 during a night of fitful sleep. I lay there restless, went back to sleep, and when I woke up around 6:30, those first lines were still there and when I sat down with my poetry journal and pencil, this is what came:

Come lay by my side as
we once did.
Feel the mattress begin to
yield to the softness
of our forgiveness,
of memory of what we
once discovered there.
Feel the warmth spread
between the sheets, the
comforter, so aptly named,
as our bodies also soften,
recognition of how our
wounds once opened here
until we could not bear the pain,
now open once more to
another possibility.
Some of the poems that come open wide to a much larger story of place, space, and time; others arrive from these intimate places, tender, open to the simple fact of our being alive and trying our best to get through this life. What I find for me is that the more I write like this, the more forgiving, tender, and compassionate I feel towards our whole struggling humanity, wounded as we are, fearful as we are, frayed all around the edges trying to protect ourselves from any more suffering - because being alive involves plenty of it.

So, friends, happy National Poetry Month!!  Read poetry. It will speak to your life. It will speak of your life. It might even change it a little. We might even become a bit more honest with ourselves.

With warm regards to Martha Nell Smith (the Dickinson scholar) and Marilee Lindemann, my fine English professor friends and old neighbors from the 'hood in Takoma Park.

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