I am told by a reliable source that today is National Poetry Day. And here I am…at work. So here is my poetry story.
I pretty much spent most of my life thinking that I didn’t like poetry. Of course, I studied it in college, and it was fine, but I didn’t really enjoy reading it and I never read it for pleasure. I felt a decent amount of intellectual guilt about this, but it boiled down to the idea that when I read poetry I felt like I didn’t “get it.”
If asked who my favorite poet was, I would have said Robert Frost, which, I recognize, is the most bourgeois answer possible. Well, I guess I could have said Rod McKuen, but you get the idea.
In fact, Dr. Crow (the same professor from my Waste Land post) told us that Frost speaks to Americans in their DNA. They understand so instinctively that they can’t even explain why they like it. This was an insight he had learned while teaching overseas and finding that foreign students didn’t have the same reaction to Frost.
Anyway, as I get older I find out that most of the stuff I didn’t like when I was younger amounts just to lazy prejudice. With poetry, I first realized this when I watched Meryl Streep on Prairie Home Companion’s poetry show. She read Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and it was really good.
Now, if there is an heir to the Robert Frost throne of American Obviousness, Mary Oliver is sitting on it. Nonetheless, she pulls human truths from nature. We learn, as we do in more spiritual pursuits, that we can suffer from an addiction to our human experience, losing sight of where we belong in, as she writes, “in the family of things.”
I also began listening to The Writer’s Almanac. This was eye-opening. The poems were better crafted for me…partly because they are, by definition, short, and partly because they are being read. That matters. I do better listening to poetry than reading it.
I still don’t want Barb reading the Waste Land to me.
Growing older is an opportunity to open up your life. You have time, now, and maybe the mental security to peer into rooms you locked up when you were young. And that’s true for this. I’m still not a big poetry fan, and I like my poetry short and, let us be charitable here, light on obtuse metaphors and references. With that in mind, I’m much more in than I thought I would ever be.
Beyond Oliver, I might point to Jane Hirschfeld as someone who insights have been particularly moving to me.
But for now, the search for something in the public domain will allow me to end this post with something from Frost that I suspect you have not read. Enjoy.
To the Thawing Wind
Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963
Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snowbank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do tonight,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.