I am grateful for poetry.
I am not sure poetry can be taught. We can be taught to arrange words together that rhyme, just the same as we can be taught to play the notes we see on a sheet of music, but that is not the same as creating magic. I think writing poetry is a skill as innate as the artist’s hand that controls the paintbrush. We can be taught to admire the craft of creating an image, an understanding, with words, words so carefully chosen the result looks effortless.
I cannot write poetry and it is not for lack of trying. I just don’t have the skill, but I admired poetry as a child, loved the rhythm of it, like a train clicking and clacking, the rocking back and forth. I admired poetry as an adolescent, as someone searching for that which we search for that is without name. I was both in awe and frustrated by a poem’s meaning that at times seemed elusive and in other moments seemed perfectly clear. I appreciated teachers who allowed his/her students to find their own meaning and not be required to see what the teacher saw to get a passing grade. I remember one high school English teacher who decided her answers were the only answers. She told me I had zero writing ability, her exact words, and I may still be holding a grudge, though how silly would that be.
A very young admirer of poetry, I memorized Walter de la Mare’s works, though I may have been more fascinated with the fact that he carried a horse around in his name, which was nothing short of ideal to a ten-year-old. And then there was William Wordsworth and his host of golden daffodils that fed my life-long passion with nature’s quiet, a need as fundamental to me as breathing. As a high school teen I admired the physicality of EE Cummings who I incorrectly gave credit to as being a woman and I was fascinated by his devotion to lower case letters and his “blizzard of punctuation” as described by Harvard Magazine in 2005. Cummings challenged the rules of writing and told budding poets they could create visual masterpieces with poetry.
And like so many of us, I admired the easy flowing language of Mary Oliver who has recently died, though I don’t think she would have used such a verb to explain the action of her leaving us. Tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? she asked of us, and many more simple but thought-provoking questions. She challenged us to see beyond what we know and inspired us to imagine.
I remember many of the poems I recited at the festivals as a child, every other year alternating between music and spoken poetry and if I don’t remember the entire poem I certainly remember parts of them, the best bits that I have packed along with me all these years. I can’t remember where I’ve left my glasses, but I remember there are fairies at the bottom of my garden from fifty-five years ago, which seems fantastical to me now.
If I had to choose a favourite poet or a favourite poem I couldn’t. My enjoyment of poetry shifts with the weather, with the wind, with my mood, with what I’ve just eaten. But you can never go wrong with the words of Carl Sandburg. Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.