Poetry is amazing. Well, let me clarify that statement… good poetry is amazing.
Sometimes I sneak the subject of poetry into a conversation, but it’s a topic that most often falls flat. Maybe it’s my delivery. I insert poems that I find meaningful into holiday and birthday cards. I wonder if people enjoy them, or do they just think it’s a pretentious affectation of mine. Perhaps both are true: they like the poems, but find me a bit pretentious.
My love for poems dates back to the days of Frieda Slater, eleventh grade AP English. Intimations of Immortality. The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock. Dover Beach. Reading and listening to poetry opened a world of experience for me I agree with poet and essayist Dana Gioia, who said, “I believe that poetry, like no other art, articulates an essential part of the human consciousness.”
I’m not just stuck on the classics. That would be like cherishing our ancestors and ignoring all the lovely folks around us. A few of my favorite modern writers are Billy Collins, Wendell Berry, and Mary Oliver, but they are just the tip of a very large iceberg. Their work is special to me because it exposes our relationship with the natural world. I also relish poems that explore our relationships with each other, and our parents, and children, and neighbors.
It’s a good thing to stay open to sources that share good poetry. The Writer’s Almanac offers a poem daily, and is a short program for anyone who loves the written word. You can read it online or have it read to you by Garrison Keillor via NPR. I stay on the email list for the Unitarian church in Cumberland County Pennsylvania soley because they share great poetry in their weekly updates. Be warned: there is a lot of terrible poetry out there as well, so if you can hook up with a source that sifts through the rubble and hands you the gems, take advantage…
Here is an example of a poem that moves me. It was hard to pick just one to use as an example for why we should embrace poetry. Maybe I picked this one because it is at this time of year that I especially miss my father.
The Red Coat
by Idris Anderson
It’s sleeting when we walk from the white church,
the ground frozen, the brown grass brittle.
I am somewhat back in the long black line of mourners,
behind my sisters, their husbands and children. I see it
all as it’s happening as though it’s not happening.
The roses on the polished oak of my father’s coffin
are sheeting with ice and I know the red coat
is too thin to keep my mother warm. She’s not shivering.
She walks across the breaking grass behind the coffin
slowly and with great dignity—without her oxygen tank,
her mouth open, a rose filled with snow.
She’s walking toward something silver and mechanical,
like a fence around the grave. There’s a canopy imprinted
with the logo of the funeral home, Herndon and Sons,
and four rows of white plastic chairs and the artificial grass.
A blue tarp covers a red clay pile of earth. We aren’t supposed
to notice these things. Bits of color in wool hats and scarves
and the red coat. My mother was determined to wear the red coat
which I’d bought for myself but gave to her because she loved it,
because it is the color that he loved on her,
because I could not bear her not having anything she loved.