April is national poetry month, but we need poetry all year long, all life long. Left to their own devices, children speak poetry. I will never forget hearing my four year-old daughter crooning to herself.
The cat catches the mouse
the mouse catches the bird
and the night catches everything
At the end of his life, my father also spoke poetry:
When the river nears the sea
it gets confused
it doesn't know which way to go.
Reading and writing poetry restores our sense of awe and connection; it uses words to take us to the wordless. When you write poetry, it changes the way you perceive. You are always on the alert for that shy, wild thing: a poem.
Eight years ago, after keeping journals since my teens, I decided I was tired of listening to myself maunder on in prose. I challenged myself to keep a poem journal only. In this daily practice, bad poetry is permissible and inevitable, but whatever I write about--dreams, conflict, people, nature--I seek to discover something truthful and essential. For example, volumes on domestic tension and affection are distilled here.
Parting of the long-married
He opens the car door
and begins to get in
before I protest and he
swears he would have remembered
to give me a goodbye embrace.
He insists on removing my glasses
to hold me close, and I (almost angrily)
say many useless things
about calling and staying safe.
I send a blessing as he drives away.
Later I cannot find my glasses.
It is clearly his fault.
I rewind the morning and know
I put them on the back of my car.
I find them halfway up the drive, unharmed.
Poetry can call forth a succinct narrative account, but I also relish the permission it gives for free association. Here is a poem I wrote not long after my husband's diagnosis with prostate cancer. (He has successfully completed treatment.) The poem came from a meditation.
the light shining
through your mother's womb
the light shining
into the depths of the sea
the last light on the last oak leaves
at the end of a short November day
the honey inside the hive
the honey spooled on the spoon
the light in your lover's eyes
when he knows
you will never
For me, as for many, poems can also be prayers, a way of connecting with mystery. Here is one from yesterday.
where you dwell
you are in every breaking heart
I don't know how this can be
but I believe it is so
our torn hearts are your temple
they offer scant shelter
from rain or beauty
you are welcome in my heart
I am seeking you here among
weeds and fallen stone
in some shadow you are waiting
you will give me water
from my own spring
cupped in your brown hands
when I am quieted
you will speak
When I signed up for twitter last summer, I began to experiment with haiku and even attempted the occasional tanka. The really gifted poets don't always stick to the syllabic formula, which is only an English approximation of the forms, but I became addicted to counting.
now it's quiet again
crows have settled their dispute
wind rests in the leaves
just outside my door
the phoebes shrill excitement
topic? real estate
should we raise the babies here?
I hope they decide to build
Twitter attracts people who love words. In further celebration of poetry month, I want to introduce you to a writer I met there: R. May Evans who has just published Truth-Love-Blood-and Bones, a collection of poems available as an e-book. May is also a brilliant blogger and an artist. Here are her links:
art and writing: http://www.readheadgirl.deviantart.com
R. May Evans has a lively and wide-ranging poetic voice--funny, fierce, sexy, angry, lyrical, passionate. Her images and metaphors sometimes startle me in just the way I long to be startled, so that I see in a new way. With R. May Evan's permission, I will close with a poem that gives me a sense of her bold, engaging spirit. I encourage you to explore her work further.
I am like a goat butting
my hard head and tiny horns against everyone
and everything I come across, if only to find out what
they're made of. I'm made of stubbornness
and questions. My cry could be a laugh.
I hop rock to rock, restless explorer.
copyright 2009 by R. May Evans
used with permission by the author
All other poems in this post copyright 2010 by Elizabeth Cunningham
I would like to acknowledge author and editor Cait Johnson's brilliant editorial suggestions for this post.