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01 April 2008

Poets help us inhabit a new space

Poetry_fingers_header Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. -Leonard Cohen

It's April 1st, and you know what that means.

No, I'm not finished with my women's history month posts so we'll just pretend that women's history month is every month (what a planet it would be if that were true) and continue those women posts as time goes by, shall we? I couldn't possibly finish without featuring Nina Simone or Carol Shields or Lori Buckwalter.

But now that the calendar has gone and swept away March and plopped us right smack in the middle of Day One of April, we've no choice but to begin our 2nd Annual Poemapalooza, a daily festivus of words in rambunctious celebration of National Poetry Month. Shall we?

Let's start with an introduction to the whole idea of poetry, with a poem that rings true to this English major's heart, having participated in many nights of happy exegesis myself, beating poems to sodden all-nighter death with my ponderous, anxious, desperate, reaching misinterpretations, those papers in which I imposed my own teen-aged world view on the unsuspecting likes of Eliot and Yeats and Whitman. Writing papers with titles like "Exegetical Intertextuality in the Poetry of Christina Rossetti."

Bless their hearts. I suppose poets are used to it by now. Perhaps they sit around making wagers on the most outlandish reading of The Waste Land, Song of Myself, and The Second Coming. One hopes. Or perhaps they prefer talking about baseball when off duty from meaning making.

As you might imagine, there is also a certain satisfaction in starting the Poemapalooza with my beautiful Billy.

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

-Billy Collins

And so it begins. A month of poetry. One a day. Like vitamins for the soul. Like rooms of a house we are walking through. Like, you know, poetry.

[image from here]


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Hi Patti:

My students (seniors) love this poem. After 12 years of examining the chroma of Williams' red wheel barrow, they slurp this up in huge gulps. Happy April!

I heard Louise Erdrich read this last month at a lecture in Syracuse..

Advice to Myself

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic-decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

Who but Billy?

What, indeed, happens to one who simply allows the poem to invite one along, to experience what there is to see and feel, and then blink twice when the ride ends?

This is easily the most graphic of Billy's criticism of typical school-taught learning about poetry that I have seen, and it is also the most accurate I can recall from my own time in school, regretting it was a day when the teacher was going to force a poem into our heads after she first had forced the poem, itself, to offer up its confession...true or not.

I look forward to some seriously fun waterskiing through this month, Patti!

Patti, that's awesome ! I can't wait to read all the poems ! You've probably read many of the poems that I like, but not this one, because I wrote it on March 1st for some reason!

I wish I could be that pastel, glorious painting at the Musée d’Orsay
Memorialized and beautiful, visited every day,
Wondered at by shiny eyes, young eyes, old eyes
Eyes that have walked the world and eyes that are beginning to open.
Or the elegantly tall, cloud-white orchid in the warmth of that home,
Watered with care, treasured, delicately blooming,
Moved closer to the spot on the windowsill where the sun glows.
Or the piano in the practice room, the one that everyone can bring to life,
Because it is not an antique piece or a famous piano, but it sounds great;
The one that music students play dissonant notes on and eventually Chopin.
Yes! That piano that communes with soprano voices
and other instrument-friends at rehearsal!
The one in a small room, soaking up all the errors, the tangible frustration,
and the consequent laughs not allowed in the show!
Or that Fauré song that makes one person in the audience blink through good tears.
The one that is being newly discovered, each note rising for the first time.
The song that inhabits music books and vocal cords and hearts.
Or that computer screen. No one gets more time with your face than that
Rectangular piece of plastic and light with a black border. It’s not even beautiful.
Well, no.

Being human is better. Paintings, orchids, pianos, songs, and computer screens
can’t think about paintings, orchids, pianos, songs and computer screens.

Too funny! Great minds thnk alike. I love this poem. Looking forward to the rest of the month.


Oh, yay. Happy April. Happy Spring. Thank God/dess for poetry.

Wow, this poem is charming and clever. Looking forward to the rest of them this month.

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