April is National Poetry Month. What a beautiful concept. A month set aside to honor and appreciate the beauty of poetry in our lives. I came to poetry late in life. High school English scared me off early on, leading me to believe that I didn’t understand at all what the poet was expressing. Once I began writing for myself and reading widely, I found I was able to really appreciate poetry, the images, the lyrical sounds of the words.
The first time I felt the accessibility of poetry was after reading some poems by Marge Piercy about the most mundane household tasks like canning and doing laundry. You can write poetry about things like that? Really? Up until then most poetry seemed to be about large, abstract concepts, not concrete things. I got these poems.
Discovering Piercy led me to Mary Oliver. When I took a graduate creative writing class at Arizona State University, one of our assignments was to memorize and recite a poem. I chose Oliver’s “The Summer Day”. It happened that my turn to recite came exactly one week after September 11th. We all felt a little raw, a little vulnerable. I got up and the words poured out of me and as I got to the line “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” my voice cracked and tears spilled down my cheeks and I didn’t making eye contact until I finished. When I looked up, I saw the tears reflected back at me and saw how beauty of poetry can connect us in times of immense sorrow.
When I teach a writing class, I like to read poetry out loud, just to get the language swirling in the air. That lyrical energy is palpable. I like to read poetry before I begin my own writing for the day for the same reason. Some poets I turn to again and again include Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Jane Kenyon, Jane Hirshfield and Pablo Neruda. Recently, I discovered “The Actual World” by Erica Funkhouser.
While I would never claim to be poet, I do enjoy exploring poetry in the privacy of my writing journals. It helps me zero in on concrete images and really consider the sounds of the words I am choosing which then feeds my fiction writing. Two books I adore that guide me through and into writing poetry are “Poemcrazy” by Susan Wooldridge” and “In the Palm of My Hand” by Steven Kowit”.
How about you? How does poetry infuse your own writing? Who are some of your favorite poets? Favorite poems? Please share them in the comments or share a link to your own blog post on the subject. I would love to hear from you.