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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Poem a Day for April 2020

April is poetry month. Did you know that? 

I had big plans for this month. I’m on the local library board and I’d pitched several ideas for how the library might celebrate this year, culminating with an activity for Poem in Your Pocket day on April 30th. We were very excited about our plans. But then Covid-19 happened. Now, like so many other things, the library is closed indefinitely, and all programming for the month of April canceled. 

The thing is, though, in these emotionally trying times, we need the poetry more than ever. 

So I’ve decided to bring the poetry to my blog. 

Do you have a favorite poem? A favorite poet? Do you even like poetry? 

It’s ok if you think you don’t. I used to think I didn’t. For a time, I thought I hated it. (I also thought I hated cats. But you know what? Turns out I was wrong about that, too.) 

I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for poems stemmed from how they were presented to me in school (and, sadly, even how I felt I had to teach it myself back when I taught). A big part of English/Language Arts instruction is teaching people how to read and think, how to break things apart and consider meaning and recognize devices (which may or may not have been employed to serve the purpose we’ve assigned to them) as they all contribute to the author’s purpose. Certainly, recognizing word play and clever uses of literary devices can be thrilling and enriching. But being told what to see can also get in the way of connecting to it personally. And that loss of connection can ruin a thing we might otherwise enjoy. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not maligning my beloved English classes. Nor am I implying that a thing’s worth should be tied to our personal enjoyment of it. (There’s a great many things in this world from which I derive no pleasure that are still worthwhile. You know, like salmon.) I simply mean to point out that sometimes a focus on seeing (the lesson) can eclipse feeling.  

It’s that feeling, that connectedness, that draws me to poetry. (And really any kind of art—other genres of writing, music, visual arts, performance arts, etc.)

When I stopped searching for something specific in it, and instead experienced it without asking anything of it, everything changed for me. 

Does this practice mean I sometimes get something different from a poem than what others get from it, and maybe even from what the poet intended? I’m sure it does. But it also frees me to love it for what it is.

I love it for its relative brevity (though, of course, some poems are quite lengthy.) I love it for its soul. Most of all, I love how I can read a poem I’ve read before, and experience it a different way every time. 

As though one might unlock a level in a game, my own experiences seem to unlock new meaning in poems for me. Joys, sorrows, life itself rewards me with understanding and awareness and a sense of belonging which I find on the page. (I’m the same way with music. I’ve listened to albums or songs and felt nothing about them. But then one day I feel a certain way and BOOM! That nothing-album becomes my personal anthem. Surely the writers were inside my brain when they wrote it just. for. me.) 

I don’t know about you, but I most often become hyper-aware of my feelings when there’s some degree of strife in my world. Stress, uncertainty, fear, sorrow, anxiety, and disruption to my status quo all seem to open me up to these seemingly magical connections.

Throughout and following Bloggate, music (both the notes & the lyrics functioning together as a different form of poetry) bolstered me, reminding me as many times as I needed that I would get through, I would heal, I would move on. 

Similarly, during my husband’s chemo treatments this past summer, I carried books of Mary Oliver’s poems with me to all our appointments. Like a friend, she kept me company in the waiting room. Her whispered words –about animals, trees, the sky, the sea, among other topics--offered me solace, encouragement, and a sense that she knew just what I was feeling. They helped me through. 

This April, as I find myself adjusting to this new way of life—one thrust upon everyone with little to no warning—I’m once again bringing new meaning to (sometimes old) words. And I invite you to join me.

Here on my blog--this virtual world where we can be together apart—I hope to post a poem (or lyrics with a link to also hear the music, since a song is its own sort of poetry) each day of April. There will be no single theme, audience, style, or poet (though, for sure, my dear friend Mary Oliver will likely make several appearances). I’ll post what speaks to me that day. 

By Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer . . .
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

I hope you will join me. And please feel free to share your own favorite poems with me. Though right now none of us can be together in person, we can be together in spirit. I hope you enjoy the poems I select. I hope some of them speak to your soul in whatever way you need. 

From my heart to yours. Be well. 

Level up, friends. 

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