I want to write. When I write well and that magic thing happens, that long silky ribbon of of words that surprises even me, my soul sighs, profoundly content. It is like the winter yearning of my friend Aula to get her hands into fresh soil of her garden, the restlessness of Suzy to paint when she has instead to tend her Bed and Breakfast.
For over twenty years I wrote the family’s Year in Review in poetry form. I began by writing rhymed doggerel, working for a wry grin. I used iambic tetrameter, until my life wasn’t funny anymore and I needed a form to fit the content. “We dug a hole and laid him in; I miss his drooling, furry grin.” Oh, please.
So, I began to write in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter. Here is a sample:
No one knows I’ve holed away to hide
in Robbo’s office, where the muted chirps
and domino-falls on carpet overhead
barely touch my ear; solitude’s
a woodstove’s fire when outside chores are done.
In respite long enough to spin my thoughts
into sentences, I dwell upon the year
Twenty-Ten, and tell a tale or two.
So, friends and family, now may I present
the folks that make the news at Heart’s Content.
That was in 2010 and a long time ago. I think that was the last time I wrote a letter to send in our Christmas card; all my energy has gone into tutoring Classical Conversations’ Challenge B and teaching my own children. But since then I have feasted on a banquet table of poetry and poetry books, and I feel my courage rise. This year; this year, for sure.
Two books lately have been my food. Both are short and both invite to the reader to come out and play. One teaches the reader how to read poetry, and the other to write. They are How to Read a Poem by Tania Runyan, and The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser.
How to Read a Poem simply goes slowly through Billy Collins’ poem “Introduction to Poetry” and teaches the reader how to see the images of a poem, listen to the sounds, scamper through the lines and spaces. She includes poems at the end of each chapter for the reader to enjoy and to practice on. I feel comfortable and welcome here. I have a stack of books about poetry–and two stacks of poetry collections–but this is the first that has me believing I am truly welcome in the land of poems. No prior knowledge needed.
The second–oh my. The Poetry Home Repair Manual makes me think I can actually learn to write and write well. Kooser writes as if anyone can try his hand at writing poetry. His advice is rich and profoundly helpful. This is the book I would give writers who are yearning to put words to paper.
Kooser, U. S. Poet Laureate (2004-2006) says, “Poetry’s purpose is to reach out to other people and to touch their hearts. If the poem doesn’t make sense to anybody but its author, nobody but its author will care a whit about it.” [Kooser xi] He quotes Seamus Heaney, “The aim of the poet and the poetry is finally to be of service, to ply the effort of the individual work into the larger work of the community as a whole.” [page 6] Service! Poetry is meant to delight the reader and give her eyes to see something that will make her life richer, better.
I learned a couple of things I have immediately put into practice: read poetry widely and regularly a few minutes a day, and get apart in solitude to put pen to paper. I can’t tell you how relieved and encouraged I am to hear how others, like me, wonder what to write about. I know what I have been doing wrong! A poem doesn’t start with an idea, such as, “The internet is ruining my family,” because ideas “are orderly, rational, and to some degree logical….Instead, poems are triggered by catchy twists of language or little glimpses of life” [page 14]
I know when I retreated to a quiet corner this weekend and began with the image of beech leaves, brown on the edges like baked sugar cookies, I found heat in my soul and the scent of something baking in the oven.