A close friend of our family had a difficult labor with her first child. The couple had prepared for the birth, as do most young couples, with classes and books and discussions with other new parents. However, little went as planned. After the ordeal was over, I offered this short poem as witness to the seeming battle that went on for nearly a day.
It is a lot of fun to see where I got my tendency to “fill out” in my later years. But it is also lovely to see the demeanor of my great-grandmother who seems to have an almost smile as she sits for this portrait. I often have a hint of a smile, though I am trying to keep a straight face.
Anyone who has arrived at seventy will notice that time does funny things. Parts of it stretch out endlessly, such as late at night. Other parts zip by as grandchildren, only recently babies, approach adult height. I learned long ago that the Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos seems to refer to time in our ordinary use of the word. Kairos has a more clear sense of the perfect moment. The following short poem shares my reflections as I turned seventy.
One of my students’ loudest complaints about poetry was the use of metaphor. “Why didn’t poets just say what they mean? Why did they have to “hide” their meanings?” As I have mentioned before, poets aren’t by and large intentionally obscure. Rather they are doing their best to communicate an image or an observation to the reader. So why use metaphors anyway?
I find that many times in regular conversation we will speak in metaphors without realizing it. We will say we have a “killer” headache, when we really don’t think we will die from it. Rather, we are saying that the intensity of the pain is like someone trying to kill us. So poetry uses the same device to help the reader understand something. (I realize that many people already know this. I am addressing the reader who is put off by poetry because of the “hidden meaning” stumbling block.)
In the little poem that follows I am using needlework, a hobby of mine, as a way to comment on the difficulties of contemplative prayer. In this case, the literal mistakes on the canvas reveal my lack of concentration on the task at hand.
The wife of a colleague of mine at work learned that she had a genetic predisposition to getting breast cancer. She chose to have a prophylactic mastectomy–the removal of two healthy breasts. I was moved by her decision and wrote her this poem.
Connecticut is a strange state. Rather than having counties as the seat of government, here we stick to the 169 towns which originally made up the state, many begun in colonial times. This means that there is great disparity between adjacent towns. A very wealthy town can butt up against one with great poverty. I live in such a town–the poorer one–and take note of the differences. In the next town over, people walk for exercise and ride bikes with their kids for fun. In my town, people walk many places and what bikes there are carry adults to work or stores. The following poem comes from my observations of the many people who walk by my house every day.
The title quote is from Marianne Moore’s poem “Poetry” where she agrees with those who find poetry obscure, but also defends the writing of it. Since I have been choosing which poems of mine to post, I have been thinking about the barriers between poetry and readers. Poetry was never meant to be full of “hidden meanings.” (Well, I take that back. There are poets who are intentionally obscure. I am not one of them, nor do I have any interest in reading them.) English teachers often do poetry a disservice by implying it is something that you have to “figure out.” Worse are the teachers who ask leading questions which only have one answer–their answer–about poems.
I like poetry because it has a unique way of putting words and images to experience. Many times poems will help me to see something I have overlooked. Other times I feel companionship when I read a poem, feeling that at least one other human being understands something I understand.
In the following poem I reflect on the neighborhood boys who spend hours shooting baskets down the street from my house. I admire their perseverance, a trait I sometimes lack.
Mostly they miss,
Those boys endlessly
Trying, trying, trying
To make the ball
Swoosh lightly through the
Battered, wobbly, rusty hoop.
They dream, too.
And, more willing than I,
I hope that as you read this you can tell that my neighborhood isn’t wealthy(see the description of the hoop.) I hope that you think about boys whose one avenue out of the neighborhood might be sports. I hope you admire their sticking to it, no matter the odds against them. But I would rather you come to these ideas on your own just from reading my words. There is no right way to read this little poem. I just hope to communicate something about those kids to the reader.
I reviewed my “about” page and learned through comments that others don’t start with reading it. Nonetheless, I thought it was a good time to reexamine my initial decision to separate my poems from my daily blog. I decided to begin to include some of those poems in my daily posts.
In formalist theory, poems stand by themselves and need no introduction, biographical, historical or contextual. However, whenever I have attended a poetry reading, I have been immensely helped by the casual introductory comments the poets make before they read. They will often relate the occasion which prompted the poem and add explanations that the reader might overlook. I thought I would adopt that stance when I include my poems.
When we moved to East Hartford, Connecticut from Portland, Oregon, I was very aware of my new surroundings and the ways they differed from my previous home. At that time, the garbage men(always men) hung off the trucks and threw the garbage, overhand, into the trucks. When my town switched to trucks that picked up the garbage without needing the men, I wrote this poem–an elegy to the garbage men.