Creating Space for Poetry

Even though I try to do a good job of balancing the books I read between memoir, nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, sometimes things get off. A bunch come in from the library all at once or I have a particular commitment to read a specific book. Maybe one book just leads naturally into another which, in turn, leads me down a rabbit trail.

Last month, I read both We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates and When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors. While one was a compilation of articles about race during the Obama administration and one was a memoir culminating in the founding of the Black Lives Matter Movement, both dealt with some heavy and uncomfortable topics.

I finished When They Called You a Terrorist feeling overwhelmed. I thought, perhaps reading something completely different would help clear my head while I processed Khan-Cullors’ story. After several starts and stops, I just wasn’t connecting. The stories and information I had just spent time with needed more time to absorb.

A friend suggested poetry to help me pause, breathe, and give space to what I had just read. The library came through and Counting Descent by Clint Smith arrived just in time. These are not light poems, by any means. They deal with the realities of being a black man in today’s world. And yet, by the very nature of the medium gives space for really big topics.

It reminded me of the importance of always having a book of poetry on hand. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite collections.

513UrUn5-yLThe Gift by Hafiz

I kept this volume of poetry in the playroom when Bea was small. As she toddled around and explored, I sat in a chair by the window and snuck in a poem or two a day. Frank’s aunt gifted me my copy and told me to open it at random – this would be my poem. I opened to page 139, “Muhammed’s Twin.” It continues to be one of my favorites in this collection.

 

 

41JMBgNaRgLLeavings by Wendell Berry

This volume by America’s farmer-poet was one I loved reading first thing in the morning. As a city dweller, I can easily lose sight of nature and Berry kept me rooted in the land. His poetry reads like a prayer, helping me to pause and notice my surroundings – from the chirping of birds to the rustle of leaves.

 

 

61S1ynjaEwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Selected Poems by e.e. cummings

I’ve had this since high school and keep returning to it. I love cumming’s style and his ability to help me re-notice the most ordinary of things. One of the first postcards I mailed to Frank when we were dating was a cummings poem. I feel like he’ll always have a special place on my shelf of poetry.

 

 

 

When I finish Smith’s powerful collection, I already have Hagar Poems by Mohja Kahf ready and waiting. I’m remembering to always have poetry on hand and part of my reading routine.

What about you? Do you regularly read poetry? What is your favorite collection?

Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site. 

Poets Anonymous: Book of Hours

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for
may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

Poets Anonymous: Uncried Tears

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post part of a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

This month’s poem comes from Just Mercy, one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time.

The conscience told the tears
“I know you really want me to cry
But if I release you from bondage,
In gaining your freedom you die.”

The tears gave it some thought
Before giving the conscience and answer
“If crying brings you to triumph
Then dying’s not such a disaster.”

 Ian E. Manuel

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

Poets Anonymous: Franciscan Blessing

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post part of a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you amy live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may wish for justice, freedom, and peace.

May god bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Attributed to St. Francis

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

Poets Anonymous: Coming Home From the Post Office

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post part of a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

This month’s poem comes from Philip Levine, who died last month.

             When I closed
my eyes I saw cards, letters,
small packages, each bearing
a particular name and some
burden of grief or tiding
of loss. Names like my own
passed moment by moment
into gray sacks that slumped
open mouthed.

Philip Levine

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

Poets Anonymous: The Water Is Wide

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post part of a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

The water is wide, 
I can’t cross over, 
And neither have I wings to fly.
Build me a boat 
That can carry two 
And both shall row, my love and I.

There is a ship 
And she sails the sea. 
She’s loaded deep, 
As deep can be.
But not so deep 
As the love I’m in, 
I know not how I sink or swim.

James Taylor*

*Edited: I have memories of hearing this song sung by James Taylor, however it has a richer history, according to Wikipedia.

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

The Poetry of Science

A couple weeks ago, when I wrote about some of Bea’s favorite children’s books, I mentioned that, while we love The Very Hungry Caterpillar, I often change the wording from “cocoon” to “chrysalis,” as that’s the scientific name for a butterfly’s casing during metamorphosis. A friend who is an editor and amazing researcher commented that Eric Carle had addressed why he wrote cocoon:

My caterpillar is very unusual. As you know caterpillars don’t eat lollipops and ice cream, so you won’t find my caterpillar in any field guides. But also, when I was a small boy, my father would say, “Eric, come out of your cocoon.” He meant I should open up and be receptive to the world around me. For me, it would not sound right to say, “Come out of your chrysalis.” And so poetry won over science!

His response was so beautifully worded, it made me a bit teary. And, it got me thinking about the poetry of science and how often we separate the two, when really, they are so intertwined.

Photo: Sid Mosdell
Photo: Sid Mosdell

When I think about the science of metamorphosis itself, it’s mind boggling. A caterpillar disintegrates inside a chrysalis and comes out a butterfly? That’s crazy! (Have you read the full process? It’s amazing!) And, yet it’s used as a poetic metaphor for so much of life.

I think it’s fascinating that we are still in a place as a culture to distinguish between poetry and science. When it comes to the creation story or story of the flood, my strictly scientific friends scoff at the ignorance of religious folks who believe that sort of thing. And when it comes to the incredible mystery of the undiscovered realms of our universe, not to mention the depths we just don’t understand our own planet yet, some strictly religious people cannot believe anything that is not stated in the Bible. That either side has difficulty seeing the poetry in their belief.

During my first year of teaching, electricity was part of the science curriculum. I had to teach my first graders about electrons and how they align to create currents. Even though I was able to teach it to the kids (using an interpretive dance, of course), I still view electricity as a bit magical. I don’t fully understand how it actually works. Part of me loves that bit of everyday mystery. It helps me retain some of the wonder of the world and helps me remember that not everything needs to be figured out. (Though I am grateful for the people who have figured out electricity!)

I think we all have areas in our lives we view more scientifically or with more mystery. I can look at a painting and analyze its symbolism and meaning but look at a shooting star and think it’s a bit of magic in the sky; Frank can look at a tax return as a puzzle rather than incomprehensible frustration but look at Abstract Expressionism and think it’s simply about color on canvas; I can breeze through nonfiction, absorbing information thirstily but reading poetry takes time and brain-power for me to comprehend. I think it’s important to step back and look at the areas we’re comfortable analyzing with a lens of mystery. Sometimes, I walk through a museum to simply enjoy without questioning or I’ll read a poem for the way the words sound, without worrying about any deeper meaning.

As Bea is learning and discovering and asking about the world, we try to answer her as honestly as we know. If we don’t know an answer, we tell her we don’t know and then we look it up to see if we can find out. But, there is a mystery and poetry of life I want her to retain. The other day, she ran through the backyard yelling, I’m chasing the sunset! And I loved that in her world, she can chase a sunset and it can run from her into dusk. As easy as it would have been to tell her that the sun doesn’t move; that the earth’s rotation is why the sun was setting, I just laughed with her and let her chase.

Maybe it means I’m not as smart or well-read on many subjects, but I hope to retain that mystery of faith in the universe – that I can enjoy some of the scientific beauty without trying to figure out the why.

What about you? Do you have more of a creative outlook or an analytic outlook? How do you view the mingling of poetry and science?

Poets Anonymous: Rules to Self

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

Check the weather often
Do what’s right for the weather today, tomorrow
Know that you contrive your plan for the week
but weather is real

John Slotnick

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

Poets Anonymous: The Sky is Low

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A traveling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem. 

Emily Dickinson

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

Poets Anonymous: Times Alone

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! –
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Antonio Machado

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!