It was my junior or senior year in high school when I fell in love with poetry. I think like a lot of people I had a preconceived idea of what poetry was and I had decided it wasn’t for me. Since English was my first class of the day, I used to put on makeup while sitting at my desk, and my nerdy friend Keitha watched as I lined my eyes or curled my lashes.
But we were introduced to a wide array of poets, so one was bound to turn me on.
Christina Rossetti was dark. I liked that. I thought poetry was flowers, nature, and pretty. But Christina wrote about death, headstones, and goblins.
He did not touch the shroud, or raise the fold
That hid my face, or take my hand in his,
Or ruffle the smooth pillows for my head:
[After Death, 1862, lines 9-11]
It’s not that I was opposed to flowery imagery, it’s just I was a teenager, and this is what attracted me at the time.
I was also taken back by Carl Sandburg’s Chicago. I didn’t know you could write a poem about a belching city, and it became my favorite. God, I was a weird kid. But damn, what an amazing poem.
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
[Chicago, 1914, verse 1]
I started to play around with writing poetry, but I don’t think I kept any of it. I wasn’t very good or devoted. My best friend gave me a huge book on poetry for my 17th or 18th birthday. And when I asked her why she gifted such a tome, she replied, because you love poetry. It was a strange feeling to be so unaware of who you are and to have your likes pointed out to you.
High school was also a time of Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe. I had two big books of their completed works. I read not only my Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High series, but more “serious” literary works. This was the simple blessing of a public school education where we were exposed to such a rich history of literature.
In theatre, we performed Romeo and Juliet, and I remember three-hole punching my sacred copy into my white binder. We analyzed each line to the sweet death, culled the three-hour performance down to one, auditioned for parts, worked on costumes, set design, and lighting. I received one funny line as the Nurse’s assistant. But after Mrs. Abrigo had me introduce the play one night, and I made the audience laugh, she had me introduce the play thereafter.
My love of Shakespeare carried on to college where I enrolled in a Shakespeare 101 course. I’m not sure how I got in though because technically I was a freshman and the course was for upperclassmen. The dang class started at 6.30 IN THE MORNING during the winter trimester. And I got an A+ on my final paper, the analysis of The Winter’s Tale. My professor wrote, “This is the best Shakespeare paper I have seen in a long time”. I was so proud that I kept it, and I’m not one for keeping such things.
Your patience this allowing,
I turn my glass and give my scene such growing
As you had slept between.
Next, I decided that e.e. cummings was King of Cool because he wrote everything in lower case letters (among other things). I bought a book of his poems. I tried to read them regularly.
if the Lovestar grows most big
a voice comes out of some dreaming tree
(and how i’ll stand more still than still)
and what he’ll sing and sing to me
and while this dream is climbing sky
(until his voice is more than bird)
and when no am was ever as i
then that Star goes under earth
[(“if the Lovestar grows most big”), 1950]
Then, as often becomes the case, I forgot poetry. I forgot to read it because I was no longer bound to through book learning (*thump, thump*) and education. After my undergraduate work was done, I was so thrilled to be free to read whatever I wanted. I was also deeply into New Age material, the world of work, and paying off my debts.
I’m sure I read it occasionally because when I was younger, I had this strong idea that two things should be read out loud: Edgar Allen Poe and poetry. I also felt it was important to read Poe on Halloween – strange are the traditions we place upon ourselves. But I won’t lie, Poe is a lot of work. I’d often keep a dictionary by my side so I could look up words I didn’t know. Those were the days of discipline, and free time, before the Internet entertained us away from high-brow pursuits.
And yet, poetry was always THERE. I don’t think I could get rid of it even if I wanted to, and I surely don’t want to. It’s this almost sacred art form that I dabble in, but don’t make the commitment to really work on.
I bought poemcrazy by Susan Goldsmith Woodridge because I was drawn to the subtitle “freeing your life with words”, and the cover of the woman leaping, and the promise to myself to get back writing verse. Out of all the books to carry with me, from across America, South America, and SE Asia, this is the one I’ve chosen. Perhaps at the core, I’m a wannabe poet.
In 1999, I moved to Eugene, Oregon from Durango, Colorado in pursuit of becoming a Waldorf teacher. This part-time two-year program was an art based one. We had music class, something called eurythmy (a kind of dance), seminar lectures on Rudolf Steiner’s books, art, and even woodworking. In art class, we were introduced to one of my favorite poems of all time.
Your exact errors make a music
that nobody hears.
Your straying feet find the great dance,
And you live on a world where stumbling
always leads home.
Year after year fits over your face—
when there was youth, your talent
later, you find your way by touch
where moss redeems the stone;
and you discover where music begins
before it makes any sound,
far in the mountains where canyons go
still as the always-falling, ever-new flakes of snow.
[You and Art, by William Stafford (1914–1993)]
At one point, I memorized it. In fact, I started to memorize poetry that I enjoyed. It seemed hip to do so. When a guy I liked recited poem after poem in front of me while we walked, I thought that was the coolest thing. (Now, I know better. He was a jerk.)
I bought a rhyming dictionary when I was attempting to rewrite The Golden Goose by the Brothers Grimm for my first-grade class. I made it rhyme so that it would be easier for the class to memorize. (This is in line with the Waldorf education curriculum.) It worked. (Here it is.) I was proud, but I should have been prouder. The children, of course, were adorable in their costumes and amazing.
When I became an expat, I tried my hand at poetry again. I then decided poetry was something that I could do if I didn’t take myself too seriously, but I had to be in a really good mood to do it. Maybe poetry is something I have to psyche myself up for.
I had good luck with finding a writer’s group when I lived in Chico, California, and I wanted to find that again when I was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand. There was a group that met, but it was sort of dominated by some ‘good ‘ol boys’ or men that had been here for a long time, the table was filled with people, and it lacked the intimacy that I craved.
So, I put out the word for an all-female writers group. No one responded, I gave up, maybe a year went by? and forgot about it until one day, an American named Catherine contacted me. And that my friends, was the beginning of a wonderful period in which I met these phenomenal women, all older than me, who were working on their poems and books.
One of the women I met, Sandra, is a delightful poet. (She recently celebrated her 80th birthday!) And when the writer’s group was taking a bit of a hiatus, she offered a poetry class which I gladly took twice. Unfortunately, all my notes are at my family’s house in Lamphun somewhere, but it was a delightful class to take, and I miss the comradery and creativity.
Maybe it’s time to open the browning pages of poemcrazy again. Do you read poems? Who’s your favorite poet?