Saturday, September 3, 2011

All Poets Must Die

Poetry is lethal because it forces you to use a sharp knife on all your words and a magnifying glass on your thoughts.
My daughter wrote me and asked me if I could summarize my life in six words – an exercise from her poetry teacher. My first six-word summed up my feelings about poetry: Born a poet. Lived a shadow.

Sometime before eleventh grade I wrote a long poem. I don’t remember when I wrote it, but I think it was fifth or sixth grade. Back then it was typed on a typewriter and only one copy existed. When I was a senior in high school a girl asked to borrow it, promptly losing it when we quit seeing each other. I recall the beginning:
One day while I was sitting by
The sea, most beautiful,
I painted of a sunset sky
And of a lonely gull.

He does seem lonely
Poetry fascinates me. You tell a story, express emotions, seek to inspire feelings and sensations in others, but in a staccato of words, a brief and bright light shining into the heart of the reader. A lot of poetry fails to do that. Perhaps it is cathartic for the writer, but falls short for the reader.

My son grumbled about having to interpret what a poem meant, which catapulted me back to my senior year in high school, the same grade he is in now. At the time my teacher was reading a poem and interpreting it to the class, but I was convinced, utterly and totally convinced, that she was wrong. It meant something entirely different to me! Then it occurred to me – it might have meant something even different to the author! So when I objected and she told me I was wrong, I stalked out of her classroom. Those three minutes wandering the halls earned me extra time with her after school. During my time of penance, I showed her the poem I wrote (mentioned above) and asked her what it meant, and she obliged me. I then asked her who she thought wrote it, and she tossed a few names at me. When I told her I wrote it, she was surprised. When I said I wasn’t thinking of any of her interpretations when I wrote the poem, she was upset. I earned a little more time after school, and extra credit work.
The lesson I learned there: Don’t argue with the Teacher.
So I feel my son’s pain in the problem of poetry interpretation, but now that I am older I realize that trying to interpret a poem is a good exercise. Finding what a poem means to you gives insight into your own heart. Right or wrong, it helps bare your soul.
I wrote poetry for decades after High School, in bits and pieces and tossed them or lost them, though a few survive.
I occasionally write a few lines of haiku, poorly.
Unblinking eyes silently
darkness descends. The cats pause.
Unseen the cats' paws
Good poetry entertains and amuses, gives you chills and tugs at your heart. Great poetry joins the heart of the poet to yours, briefly igniting your own spirit, illuminating dimly lit parts of your soul for your perusal.

There’s a part in Our Town by Thornton Wilder where Emily Webb, recently dead, visits her house. After a poignant monologue she turns to the Stage Manager and cries “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every,every minute?”
The Stage Manager says “No” and thinks for a second. “The Saints and Poets, maybe they do some.”

Poets must die, so they can create Great Poetry by really seeing the Beauty of Life.

More six word life summaries follow:
Dear, dismayed, distraught, delighted, determined Dad.
Casual nonfiction, unwritten, unsung, finale pending.
Bad similes make me smile. Life.
Centered in the Who of Life.
Flawed, faithful, challenging, challenged, empathetic, entertaining.

1 comment:

  1. Send me poems. I want more of "Unseen the cats paws." (I love it, by the way.) Come, you're still a poet, now is the moment. Write with me, and I'll smile.

    Early morning when
    Poet father bends, begins
    Writing the silence.