"Nearly every day, poetry saves me, " writes Kim Rosen in the prologue to her generous book Saved by a Poem. When I read those lines I nodded--they ring true for me. She goes on to say "some favourite line or surprising image will rescue my vagrant attention from the careening bandwagon of my thoughts and redirect it to the path of my soul. My mind quiets, my breath deepens and I remember what matters most to me." Yes, reading poetry does that for me. It all started with my father saying O wild west wind thou breath of autumn's being and my mother singing mares eat oat and does eat oats and then there was the day Carl Sandburg made fog move on little cat feet and I fell into the page under the page and knew I would never be the same again. And I fall to my knees, saved, in the reading of this :
“Now every mortal has pain
and sweat is constant,
but if there is anything dearer than being alive,
it's dark to me.
We humans seem disastrously in love with this thing
(whatever it is) that glitters on the earth--
we call it life. We know no other.
The underworld's a blank
and all the rest just fantasy.”
― Anne Carson, Grief Lessons: Four Plays
April may be the cruuuuuellest month according to Chaucer but my month began with a package arriving in the mail. A book of poems and a novel---gifts from writer Bruce Hunter. http://www.brucehunter.ca/
We've met face to face but rekindled a connection on facebook --and when I opened the awarding winning book Two O'clock Creek my eyes fell on the poem entitled "What My Students Teach Me." Piercing, painful, beautiful, Hunter shows how poetry can be a container for pain and horror. The poem reminded me what poet and mentor of many, freind Sue Goyette told me just last week when I confessed why I'd lost my heart for writing poems. She wrote: "Poetry could carry this. Poetry does what it does, it origamis the pain and gives back bird or flower. Use it. Use its light." Sue's latest book Ocean published by the gorgeous makers of books Gaspereau Press will be launched this April 13th. I am away sadly. Anyone who can, go! Sue is one of the finest Canadian writers writing today. Even her posts in our Writer's Fed weekly updates could be in a book called, well, I dunno, Friday Poems? Sue tells the truth and tells it slant! There's not a cliche anywhere in her DNA. It'll be a grand book and grand poetrybash. Details here: http://www.gaspereau.com/bookInfo.php?AID=0&AISBN=9781554471225
Sue and Bruce and Allan Cooper who also gifted me with books of poetry this winter have made me think of writing poems again. So has editing an anthology of Atlantic poetry for children from Sir Chares GD until now with Anne Hunt. And so has Jane Yolen. http://janeyolen.com/ . Jane Yolen's poem a day emails have been the VERY best way to start my day, gotten me through a long winter. I am amazed, simply amazed at the poetry and the output and she makes me see how lazy I've gotten. Discipline, intention--- is a good thing!
I'm ending with one of my favourite poems by my first poetry mentor Fred Cogswell. He saved me. Yeah, he did. I miss him.
Eve Ensler says in the forward to Saved by a Poem--- "This book is a call for attention-to detail, to nuance, to each other. It teaches us that by bringing poetry deeply into our lives, our hearts, and our bodies we strengthen the muscle for care, our capacity for intricate metaphoric thinking, our appreciation for ambiquity. This book encourages our longing not for answers but for ever expanding questions." Well, Poetry does that. Fred's work does that for me. He was a traditionalist. I learned a lot from him.
In the poem that follows Cogswell articulated a magic I always felt but could never find words for. I guess it's about kindreds. About recognition of an "other" that you know you know even as you meet them for the first time. I always thought that was some little weird thing in me - but when I read the poem --I was maybe 19-- ah! I knew I was not alone. Maybe not soooo weird? Now I wonder aren't we all Star People? This is how we touch each other---or at least yearn to -- with words, or sometimes just a knowing. Some day, I hope to write a poem as good as this. Or one of Bruce Hunter's. Or Sue Goyette's. Or... well the list is long of poets I turn to.
In the meantime, Happy POETRY Month.
Read a poem a day. Save yourself.... or at least keeps some bugaboos away.
Next week I'll be writing about Project Bookmark Canada where the words of Canadian poets and writers will come off the pages and onto the landscape.
But for now --- here's Fred Cogswell. And here's to miracles. I call them poems. And yes, they save me.
In all shapes and sizes do they walk the Earth
As men and women wherever men and women are;
How can we know them? How can we tell
Beneath what skin unfolds the petals of a star?
They eat and drink and love and hate like men.
Like men they’re prone to colds and shirk their tasks.
So well they ape the human-robots in their moves
That they at times forget they’re wearing masks.
But when they meet another of their kind,
Underneath the current of their usual words
There chimes, inaudible to human ears,
Bell-music like the cries of mating birds.
And when they touch the other’s hands or eyes
Such joys along their nerve-ways race
They scarce can bear to smile and make small-talk
As though no miracle were taking place.