It’s a bit cliched certainly (especially on today, the gloomiest of days in recent memory), but I do deeply love poetry. Not all poetry to be sure- my own from years past is fairly cringe-worthy, and sonnets almost always do nothing for me- but a certain kind of poetry brings me deep soul joy.
Beautiful poems illuminate the microcosm present in a single moment. By getting at the essence of a particular sight/experience/emotion in a relatively sparse number of words, a skilled poet is able to somehow bring forth truth about our lives. My joy from poetry comes when my soul sees truth. I made poems.com my Firefox homepage in hopes of starting my day with surprising soul insights, at least once in a while.
“Christmas Sparrow” – Billy Collins
The first thing I heard this morning, was a rapid, flapping sound, soft, insistent…
wings against glass(as it turned out) downstairs,
where I saw a small bird
rioting in the frame of a high window
trying to hurl itself through
the enigma of glass into the spacious light.
Then a noise in the throat of the cat,
who was hunkered on the rug,
told me how the bird had gotten inside,
carried in on the cold night
through the flap of the basement door,
and later released from the soft grip of teeth.
On a chair, I trapped its pulsations in a shirt
and got it to the door,
so weightless it seemed to have vanished
into the nest of cloth
But outside, when I uncupped my hands
it burst into its elements
dipping over the dormant garden
in a spasm of wingbeats
then disappeared over a row of tall hemlocks.
For the rest of the day I could feel its wild thrumming against my palms
as I wondered about the hours it must have spent
pent in the shadows of that room,
hidden in the spikey branches of our decorated tree, breathing there
among the metallic angels, ceramic apples, stars of yarn,
its eyes wide open, like mine as I lie in bed tonight
picturing this rare and lucky sparrow
tucked in a holly bush now
a light snow tumbling through the windless dark.
Finding joy in poetry has been long in coming, but making poetry part of my daily life began upon finding a Poem a Day anthology for fifty cents at Cummings Books, a lovely bookstore in Dinkytown that is tragically now defunct. It housed several cats, an extremely talkative parrot, and an astounding number of books on an eclectic assortment of subjects, notably Kurt Vonnegut novels and off-kilter cookbooks. But I digress.
For at least the first couple of months of owning this anthology I read the poem of the day every day, after my morning yoga, before really getting ready for work. It’s not that all of the poems were my favorite, really (though I included one I loved early on below), and nearly all would have broken my soon to come year of reading non-straight white male authors. Instead it was the practice and presence of reading a poem as part of my morning routine that was so important, a calming and centering kind of joy.
To comprehend a poem in any meaningful way one cannot multitask. Poems demand full attention, bookended by meditative breathing to find the presence to begin and allow percolation of insight following. Many of the best poems require a second, and sometimes third reading before sparks of understanding settle in one’s psyche. That’s how I knew which poems from the Poem a Day anthology were worth marking and returning to- after the initial reading I immediately wanted to read them again.
“Song” – John McGrath
And when our streets are green again
When metalled roads are green
And girls walk barefoot through the weeds
Of Regent Street, Saint Martin’s Lane
And children hide in factories
Where burdock blooms and vetch and rust,
And elms and oaks and chestnut trees
Are tall again and hope is lost
When up the Strand the foxes glide
And hedgehogs sniff and wildcats yell
And golden orioles come back
To flash through Barnes and Clerkenwell
When governments and industries
Lie choked by weeds in fertile rain
For sure the few who stay alive
Will laugh and grow to love again
Finding a specific way to experience and create more joy from poetry is not a challenge. Enacting that specific task is another story.
I need to commit to writing, editing, and sharing my own poems.
Presently I write on occasion, in the tiny Midtown Greenway photo-covered notebook I carry with me always, in my leather bound personal journal at home when I grab it quickly enough upon arriving after crafting a poem whilst bicycling home, and sometimes on the computer. But I find myself nearly terrified by the prospect of working on those poems to a point where they might be worth sharing. Because I am terrified of failure, of being told I am not and never will be any sort of writer/poet/author. So I don’t even try, apart from mad scribblings that stay safe within my notebooks.
There are innumerable places for sharing poetry, from live readings to local zines, so in the interest of both challenging myself and hopefully, over time, increasing joy from poetry, I shall find and contribute to those. But for now, here is a [mostly unedited] poem from late January.
“Snow” – Lauren M.F.
I am amazed that in Minnesota we still yet have
a single, solitary symbol for snow.
How can one linguistic creation contain
a blinding, driving shard flurry,
the slipping-sliding sensation of biking on
semi-packed, still falling, hot-chocolate colored chaos,
as well as the first gentle blizzard of the year
each flake precisely formed in
a mini tapestry of nature’s design?
The Eskimo people had the right idea;
winter’s precipitation is far too feisty
to fit into a single word.
“A poem begins with a lump in the throat.”