Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Confessions of an addict

Some of us can’t imagine a life without poetry. My own love for it began when I was very young. My mother didn’t have a formal education, but her reading to us is one of the first early memories I have. One of my favorite books was A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. One of my favorite poems was Lochinvar by Sir Walter Scott. I discovered Walt Whitman and many others when my Aunt Cornelia, a woman known for her beauty and genteel nature, gave me an anthology of poems. The name of that book escapes me, but I read it until it fell apart.

I carried my passion into adulthood. I read poetry to both my daughters from the moment they breathed on their own. Now that they’re older, we’ve shared many “poetry moments” together, often when I come across a poem that stops me on the tracks of a busy day, like a train. I am probably one of the only people I know who doesn’t mind the interruption of a train on a city street; I like to watch the box cars and read what people write on them. I like to imagine what’s inside them, where they’ve been, where they’re going. And that’s how I feel about poems.

I read such a poem yesterday. Vince Gotera, in an article about imagery, cites a haiku written in the 1700s by Taniguchi Buson. Gotera teaches a course on the Craft of Poetry at the University of Northern Iowa. His site is an act of generosity for both writers and readers.

Gotera uses this poem in the context of an instructional article about imagery in poetry, citing Pound’s In a station of the metro as well. I was so taken by Buson’s lines that I called my 16-year-old into the office and read it to her. She listened, then smiled at me and said, “Wow!” Here’s the haiku, borrowed from Buson’s site (in the interest of poetry instruction):

The piercing chill I feel:
my dead wife's comb, in our bedroom,
under my heel . . .

When you consider the sound implied, not only literally but in the context of history, the poem unfolds even more. Combs of that period wouldn’t have been made of plastic; this comb would have been created from bone or tortoise shell or a material that surely would have produced a high crackle. The poem is amazing.

As someone addicted to poetry, all kinds of poetry in its many manifestations, I don’t think I could enjoy life as much without it. I think most poets would agree with me. We may battle like barbarians over style and technique and aesthetics, but on the matter of the importance of poetry, I am certain we all concur.

First recommended link of the week: Poetry Magazine, the essay I Go to AWP by Kay Ryan in particular. Brilliant poet, brilliant essayist. I suppose I identify so passionately with the essay because like Ryan, I can’t imagine teaching and writing at the same time.

Second recommended link of the week: W_O_M_B Poetry, a new site offering promises of good poetry to come.

Tease of the week: Watch The Writer Magazine online for an upcoming article of interest to poets.

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