When was the last time you read a poem?
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Does this poem do for you what it does for me? Mainly, it helps me remember, on uncertain days, that breathing IS enough. It is everything.
I have let poetry befriend me again, thanks to my high school BFF, Nette, who shares poems with me, like the one above. All her life, Nette has sought refuge and delight in poetry and has enticed me to do the same. Although she doesn’t call herself a poet, she writes poetry. And now, all of a sudden, I’m writing poetry! It is how my words want to find themselves.
Think back. Was poetry a part of your youth? Surely you studied poetry in school. Are there any poems that come to your surface? In high school, when I was a baby hippie, this was a favorite poem by that San Francisco hipster Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Don’t Let That Horse . . .
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Don’t let that horse
eat that violin
cried Chagall’s mother
kept right on
And became famous
And kept on painting
The Horse With Violin In Mouth
And when he finally finished it
he jumped up upon the horse
and rode away
waving the violin
And then with a low bow gave it
to the first naked nude he ran across
And there were no strings
Surely you have a poem that springs to your memory mind. What is it?
Poems are economical in both space and time. You don’t have to make a great commitment of hours and days to get the enduring soul benefits. A poem begs to be reread often and provides pleasure every time you visit. Poems are fun to perform. Read one aloud and see what it does for you.
Reciting a poem at a party makes you a memorable guest. I mean, who gets poetry recited to them these days? No one. I bet you have a poem inside of you that you had to memorize for school. Mine is Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Concord Hymn.”
By the rude bridge that arched the flood
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world
Going back even further, here is a favorite childhood poem from “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” I still own this dear, tattered book. I can smell the Coppertone, hear the ice clinking in the frozen orange juice of my mother’s green cooler, feel the sand under a certain blue-check beach towel.
At the Sea-Side
By Robert Louis Stevenson
When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.
My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up
Till it could hold no more.
Isn’t it amazing that he could write a sweet poem like this and also write “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”?
To put poetry back into your life, you can get a poem a day emailed to you by www.poets.org
The Poetry Foundation is another great site to poke around.
BONUS TIME! For an introduction to THE hot, new, young poet of today, read the fascinating New York Times profile of Tricia Lockwood, The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas. With a title like that, how could you not read it? It doesn’t disappoint and it’s an intriguing look into the lives of young people today — always a good thing to drop in on.
Then, there’s the review of her newest book, “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals.”
How do you feel about poetry? Do you have a favorite poem you can share with us? We’d love to read it, really we would.
P.S. If you are daunted by trying to write poetry, don’t worry about writing good poetry, just try writing bad poetry. There, that should free you.
P.P.S. Here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as bad poetry! All poems are good poems.