Poetry is More than a Party Trick


Poetry is a great tool to use for a meditation reflection. I wish I had fallen in love with it a long time ago. It took me some time to realize it was more than a party trick.


My relationship with poetry was a long-distance one for most of my life. It was there, largely ignored, yet kept on call for times when I needed "special words". Stephanie Burt's book Don't Read Poetry teaches people how to read poems. I had to learn the hard way. I could have used this book to discover those special words that have added technicolor to my life experience.


The early history of my poetry engagement was filled with inconsistency. Usually, it was connected to life events.


With gratitude, I found the words of e. e. cummings when I was moved to speak at my brother's funeral. They filled the space between the stone walls of the St. Francis Episcopal church's gothic structure as well as the eyes of those gathered within. Here is a part of that e.e. cummings' poem that praises the essence of God found in nature.


"(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun’s birthday;

this is the birthday of life and of love and wings:

and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)"


For special occasion gifts, I often reached for meaningful words in the poetry collections of my local bookstore. Intimidated and unfamiliar, I chose the poetry books by the cover illustration. Sometimes I got very lucky like with Mary Oliver's "Dog Songs".


Every now and then I would even use poetry as a party trick. Trying to impress others, I'd recall and recite the poetic words of Shakespeare's Macbeth soliloquy, thanks to a long-ago high school assignment. Maybe you remember these words too!


"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! . . ."


For the most part, I had little appreciation for the art of poetry; it wasn't for me.

The author of Don't Read Poetry says when she hears people remark that poetry "isn't for them" it's like they're saying "they heard Beethoven, . . . didn't get into it and then decided they don't like music." "Don't read poetry", Burt implores. Instead, she urges: "find reasons to encounter poems".


When words became rafts for me and my meditation group in the lonely and emotionally turbulent waters of the pandemic lockdown; my poetry encounters became essential. Stephanie Burt is right, my love for poetry has grown with each discovery of a poem with the right rhythm and harmony for each particular meditation experience.


When I felt like we needed comic relief - I read "Making Breakfast with Dolly" by Rosemerry Trommer.


After hearing wordsmith and change-maker, Amanda Gorman, at the President's inauguration, my meditation group requested that I read her energizing poem, "The Hill We Climb". As the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history, Amanda's fresh, distinguished and dynamic voice brought her words to life with the cadence and rhymes of contemporary spoken poetry. "The Hill We Climb" was a call of awakening that stirred our hearts.


"When day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid,

the new dawn blooms as we free it.

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it.

If only we're brave enough to be it."


As the pace of life slowed to the walks we took at the speed of nature, our eyes became more focused on its natural wonders. To enhance the feelings evoked by nature's beauty, I often turned to the work of Mary Oliver whose poetry stems from her lifelong passion for solitary walks in the wild.


"Oh, my dear heart,

My own dear heart,

Full of hesitations,

Questions, choice of directions,

look at the world."


Lately, our group has been enjoying the writings of the poet, Joy Harjo. Also, inspired by nature, Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Nation (Este Mvskokvlke) and belongs to Oce Vpofv (Hickory Ground). She holds the distinction of being only the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to serve three terms. Take heart in breaking times with Joy Harjo's timeless poem, "For Earth's Grandsons".


I am now glad to say poetry is for me and I add that poetry is for all people. Use it as a party trick, if you like, but know that it has other magical qualities. You only need to look for ways to encounter it and be open to your discoveries.


May you have many poetry encounters.