I was one of those kids who hated poetry and cringed when a teacher assigned any verse to us at all. I recoiled at any school work besides, but poetry, as it was taught then had the effect of making me and others believe they didn’t really understand the English language at all. When I was in high school Dana Gioia’s essay “Can Poetry Matter?” was published in The Atlantic (or the Atlantic Monthly, as it was called back then) and its effects were definitely being felt in the poetry classes I was forced to take for my literature major in college.
Now I see poetry in a kinder light. For me it serves the purpose of just playing with words and meanings, and exploring the emotional relationship that words have with their context. In other words, I use poetry as a sandbox, a laboratory to see if my written descriptions match up with the effect I wish to create. And if I don’t like what I see I can start over with little attachment, and unlike with my prose, my poetry isn’t tied down to a narrative or an argument in which I have become invested.
I wake up extremely early on most days. Lately it has been 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock just to write. One of my resolutions is to write, and one of my sub-resolutions is to write more poetry. Last year I wanted to write one poem – even short as a heroic couplet – every day. Even with that low bar I was not able to do it. So I decided I would just try for a poem every week or so, and now that I think of it I should really try every week. Over the past year I have discovered that the common themes of my poetry are mornings, grief, birds, geographical features of Boston, perceptions of time, and of course the two big inescapable themes of love and beauty. I, also, noticed that I like dew imagery way too much. Now that I know this I will try to avoid it.
The following poem “Untilled” is a play on the word until which I find fun and exhilarating. You can never finish a sentence or a conversation with the word until because it would drive someone mad. “I will not stop fighting until…”
Anyway, I find the word funny, but somehow I thought of soil that has not been tilled as well. It’s a place where something is meant to take root but has not been prepared yet.
And then my favorite poetry subject: mornings. I love the mornings so much or else I would find it ridiculously difficult to get up as early as I do. I love the figurative race to the window that I make every day to beat the first wisps of light to the straight edge of the horizon.
More than anything, though, this poem is a meditation on my personal relationships with the words beautiful and love. Specifically, despite the conceptual and abstract similarities between love and beauty, I have a more tactile and visceral experience of love and its qualities than I do beauty. (However, if I am pressed, I could say that something that I hold can be experienced in a beautiful way and the fact that I can hold it be beautiful in itself.)
As writers are wont to do, I agonized over one particular word: womb. Do birds have wombs? A bird does not have a uterus, it has an oviduct. But I thought, Heck! Close enough. But still it bothers me ever so slightly.
I have also been been obsessing on the ability to memorize poetry. Rhyme has its advantages in this respect, but I was wondering if I could create something somewhat unstructured but with a structure that would make it easier to remember. I don’t think I succeeded. It was a lower priority for me with this poem, but I think you can see my attempts with alliteration and the wording of the first six lines.
Beautiful is the yellow that slips onto early light;
Love is the beaded dew that clutches onto green blades.
Beautiful is the song that trills from ruby throats;
Love is the egg from the womb, laid and nestled.
Beautiful is the breeze that carries the memory of winter;
Love is the branch that sways despite the cold recollection.
Bare feet on grass,
Toes sunk into damp soil,
That soon the sun will scorch dry,
Sharp edges will cut shadows from the sunlit scene,
But now in the soft light, tender like new flesh,
Life crawls beneath all that earth, untilled.
So that’s my first official poem for 2019. Feedback appreciated but know that I don’t consider myself a poet. I plan on posting more sandbox works – things I consider unrefined but it helps me get over my fear of putting things out into the world at all.