Monday, April 4, 2016

Late to the Poetry Party

Note to readers: Carmela here. If you're reading this post online, it has my name in the byline, but the post that follows is from Mary Ann. She's unable to post today due to technical difficulties, so I'm doing it for her. Enjoy! 

In honor of National Poetry Month, I am to choose “a poem I would carry in my pocket.” I still have a knee-jerk reaction to the words, “National Poetry Month.” Poetry? Bleah! (Before you get too outraged and stop reading this post, I did get over my intense dislike of poetry. Read on.)

My elementary school teachers were “old school” when it came to poetry. We had so few opportunities for creative writing, that it seemed a shame to waste any of them on poetry. Poetry had to have rhyme and meter and just the right number of syllables per line. Oh yeah, it also had to make sense. And be short. I figured anything that was worth saying took more than eight or so lines. (Eight lines was the minimum for these poetry assignments.) Too many rules, too much structure.

Of course, no one was teaching Ferlinghetti or ee cummings to fourth graders in the sixties. What we wrote had to rhyme, and preferably be about a “pretty” subject like clouds or flowers or how much we admired our teacher.

In junior high, the poetry units seemed to consist entirely of the works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Hiawatha, The Courtship of Miles Standish and my absolute, least favorite, Evangeline. Not only did we pore over every line and nuance, we were made to memorize long passages, that we regurgitated on tests. I usually did well, since memorizing is one of my “talents.” I hated every word of those poems, but I got my A. (Spoiler alert: I was particularly ticked that after seemingly hundreds of stanzas of the star-crossed lovers Evangeline and Gabriel just missing each other, over and over, they meet just in time for Gabriel to die in Evangeline’s arms. Some big emotional pay-off!)

By high school, the literature curriculum became “relevant” and suddenly the old marching line of World Lit, US Lit, British Lit were replaced with “literature electives” such as “American Theater,” “20th Century American Lit” (all the authors were male) and “Creative Writing.” There were some poetry courses on the list, but I skipped right past them. No more meter, no more rhymes. No more “thee’s” and “thou’s” and dying lovers. Yay!

Poetry did not re-enter my life until I began my MFA in Writing for Children at Vermont College. My classmates passionately discussed Mary Oliver and Donald Hall and Wendell Berry, poets I had never heard of. I would hole up in a corner of Bear Pond Books (MY “happiest place on earth”) and scan through piles of poetry books, finding poems that did NOT rhyme, and that spoke right to the heart of me. At long last, I had arrived at the poetry party.

At the time I was living in Bangkok and felt terribly isolated. As if I had drifted away from Earth and into another dimension. I lived on email, to the point that my friends no longer seemed human, only words on a computer screen.

It was then that I found E.E. Cummings’ “92”, the poem I would carry in my pocket, bring to a desert island and would recite to myself to remind me that on the other side of the world there were flesh-and-blood people who loved and cared about me.


i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

---from E.E. Cummings Complete Poems 1904-1962
edited by George J. Firmage, Liveright, 1994

I am happy to announce that Chana S. is the winner of  our April’s latest picture book, More Than Enough: A Passover Story. Congratulations, Chana.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman

1 comment:

JoAnn Early Macken said...

Oh, I love that poem, too, MA! Good choice!