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?

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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!

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!

Poets Anonymous: Life

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.

Some things that fly there be, –
Birds, hours, the bumble-bee:
Of these no elegy.

Some things that stay there be, –
Grief, hills, eternity:
Nor this behooveth me.

There are, that resting, rise.
Can I expound the skies?
How still the riddle lies!

Emily Dickinson

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