My eleven-year-old came home the other day telling me that her English teacher is starting a really boring unit. For the next few weeks they are going to be studying poetry. She said the word poetry in the same tone she says the words clean the bathroom.
And this is my child?
I, the lover of all types of poetry? I, collector of great books of poems? I, the woman who hosted wild, ruckus Poetry Nights with my friends for years when my daughters were wee babes? This is my child?
I wanted to explain to her that poetry is how people put love and hate and fear and hope into words we can feel. I wanted her to understand that good poetry, really good poetry is like a secret code that you have to decipher, and the best poems have a last line that hits you straight in the heart. I wanted her to know that reading good poetry outloud is like having your mouth filled with chocolate. Poetry is about passion, child! Passion!
But all I could muster up at the moment was a flabbergasted, “But poetry is so cool!”
My daughter shrugged. “If you say so.”
Okay, so it will take some time for me to convert her. In the meantime, April is National Poetry Month so let’s get the party started! Here are some of my favorite poems:
1. I Stop Writing the Poem by Tess Gallagher
I once told a very wise woman that I had a dream to write books but that I planned to dutifully wait until all my children were in school. She laughed at me and said that if I did that I would loose all my inspiration. She was right. Since then I have tried to weave my writing in with my mothering and wifer-ing and it has worked out better than I had hoped. There are plenty of times I have to stop writing to fold shirts. Or do laundry. Or listen. It is all part of what women do. But without those children tugging at our sleeves and asking questions, what would there be to write about?
I Stop Writing the Poem
to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.
2. Master Speed by Robert Frost
I think about this poem when I think about the power of marriage.
No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still-
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.
3. When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman
I read this poem when Facebook gets too much for me to handle.
When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
4. Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou
Every poem by this woman is phenomenal. This one is my favorite.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
5. Ode on Imitations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth
This is just a bite of a much longer poem (but it is the best bite). I taped this (and other poems) to the kitchen cupboard while my daughter Naomi had colic and memorized them while I held her and walked back and forth, back and forth. Can’t remember them now, though, so that is why I have to keep reading them…
Ode on Imitations of Immortality
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
Thanks for reading. I feel much better now.