Belated Respects to National Poetry Month

I’ve always had a complicated relationship with poetry. In high school I found it hard to understand the poems we had to read, unable to see the meaning the teacher insisted was there, waiting for us to discover. Reading a poem felt like trying to see through to the image hidden within those 3D posters. I’d read the poem, concentrate so hard on what it meant that I missed the beauty of the words and images and sound that were right in front of me.

I like to read poetry before I start writing for the day. When I teach, I often read a poem out loud, not to discuss or analyze it but so that the music of language gets woven into the air around us.

I took a graduate writing workshop with Melissa Pritchard at ASU back in 2001. We each had to memorize and recite a poem of our choosing in front of the class. I chose “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver.  My turn to read came exactly one week after 9/11. The mood was subdued, to say the least. I got up and recited from memory this beautiful poem. My voice wavered when I got to the line “I don’t know exactly what  prayer is” but I kept going, not wanting to cry in front of these people that I barely knew at this point. But when I came to the last line,”What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life” I no longer had a choice as to whether or not I would cry. I was crying. I looked up and others had tears in their eyes as well. It was a moment that connected us and during that moment in our history, connection was desperately needed.

Connection. That’s what poetry is for me. I no longer fear or dread poetry. I no longer read it as a way to merely decipher its meaning. Instead I let the sounds and images wash over and through me. One day I was feeling rather down and disconnected from my writing, brooding over my “Work”/purpose and what it means as my children grow up. Stewing in this disconnection I browsed the bookshelves at the local bookstore and stumbled across “Messenger” by Mary Oliver. I came to this line: “let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.” A wide deep space opened up within me. I could breathe easier. The angst I’d been feeling dissolved. I felt connected again. That is the gift of poetry.

Some of my favorite poets: Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Jane Kenyon, Pablo Neruda

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Books Read in April

“Daddy Needs a Drink- An Irreverent Look at Parenting From a Dad Who Truly Loves His Kids—Even When They’re driving Him Nuts” by Robert Wilder

I met Rob many years ago at a writing retreat in Taos with Natalie Goldberg so when I stumbled across his book I had to grab it. He’s as funny and engaging in writing as he was in person. He tackles many parenting topics from potty-training to telephone etiquette to sleep deprivation, revealing the unbearable frustration as well as the joy along the way. On the cover is a quote from the Fort Worth star-Telegram that reads, “If David Sedaris had children, this is the book he might write.” I’d have to agree.

“Manhood for Amateurs- The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son” by Michael Chabon

It’s a coincidence that I read two books of essays by men this month. I’ve had the Wilder book for a while and decided to read it. The Chabon one was on my never- ending list of books to read and there it was in the library last week. So, there you go. Chabon weaves memories of his own childhood and adolescence with his experience today as a father and husband, searching for an answer to the question, “What does it mean to be a man today?” his passion for his family shines through. I especially appreciated “William and I” in which a woman in line at the grocery store observes that she can tell the Chabon is such a good dad. Instead of feeling all puffed up, this compliment actually annoys him since he knows that a woman would need to perform open heart surgery on her child in line at the grocery store in order to receive the same assessment. I also loved “I Feel Good About My Murse” (which is a man purse) as he documents his quest for a vehicle in which to carry the items he needs with him throughout the day trying not to succumb to using an actual (gasp!) purse. Thoughtful, warm, funny and moving. What more could you ask for in a collection of essays?

“We Need to talk about Kevin” a novel by Lionel Shriver

This is an intense, dark story that I couldn’t put down. By the final sentence I felt wrung out emotionally. It tackles the tough topic of a high school massacre that happens nine days before Columbine. It is told in letters from the boy’s mother to her estranged husband as she meticulously combs through their story, trying to piece it all together. There are no easy answers. It is not an easy read. But I am glad I read it.

“Women Food and God- An Unexpected path to Almost Everything” by Geneen Roth

If Anne Lamott blurbs the cover I m inclined to read it. She did so I did. While I don’t consider myself to be a compulsive overeater, I do feel that I’ve spent more time than I care to admit obsessing about food/weight/inches/sizes. Her work can be applied to any behavior that you hide behind whether it’s food, internet, TV, shopping, etc… It’s about ending the struggle and feeling what is there. Literally feeling your body, getting grounded in the present moment. Feeling sad? What does that feel like in your body? I think this will also make me a better writer, using the body to convey emotions in my characters. This is a book I will turn to again and again, next time with pen in hand. I’m pretty sure that I will find at least one sentence on every page to underline that resonates with me.