Poetry Summer

Troubled times. Hurricanes and floods, fear and outrage, unbelievable politics and uncertain futures. Where can we turn?

Perhaps to poetry. The word comes from the Greek “Poiesis,” or “to make.” Long before we wrote anything down, we recited poetry to each other in order to preserve; to remember. A versatile art, it can be used for marking events or for making something out of all the feelings bubbling up inside of us.

Audre Lorde, in her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” put it this way: “Poetry forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change …”

In June I decided to read more poetry, to make it a “poetry summer.” I didn’t have a plan—just went with what called to me, starting with Elizabeth Barret Browning. In poor health from an early age, she had her own understanding of suffering. I loved these lines, from “Sonnets from the Portuguese, Number V”:                                                                          … And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn                                                                                      The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see                                                                                          What a great heap of grief lay hid in me …

Next I tried Pablo Neruda, and fell head-over-heels for his words, the way he makes things bloom on the page. In this poem, he takes a sad subject and makes it something beautiful: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/40470/a-dog-has-died

I found a more lighthearted celebration of dogs in Mary Oliver’s collection “Dog Songs.” And one of the poems in Margaret Atwood’s “Morning in the Burned House” was ripped right from my childhood. How did she know?

Then I read every poem in my collection of Emily Dickinson, a book I’ve had around for years but somehow never opened before. This is one of my favorites, with its description of being enveloped by the surf: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50976/i-started-early-took-my-dog-656 

I know, I know! There is a pattern here. Clearly I find dogs as comforting as poetry.

I’m finishing the summer with Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” A little challenging, but so full of life. As a matter of fact, is that a barbaric yawp I hear? Must be Walt, calling me back. And he’s got a dog with him too!

 

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