40 For 40 Update: Rediscovering Poetry

Last year I wrote about wanting to commemorate my 40th birthday with a list of challenges that I wanted to pursue in 2017. Well, as of today, I’ve completed 19 of them. Almost half! I’m pleased but not satisfied. I’ve decided to continue trying to complete the list, as I won’t stop being 40 until May. And even then, if I haven’t finished them all, I’ll keep trying. As Naomi remarked on my blog when I was fretting about not reaching my reading goals, goals are for striving for, not necessarily to reach.

img_1526The first item I attempted this year was an utter success: Read poetry every day for one week for at least 15 minutes. Friends, it has reawakened my love of poetry. I’ve always loved poetry, ever since I was eight or nine and entered a poetry contest at my school and won a prize (a gift certificate to a local bookstore! And they displayed my poem!) I wrote poetry all throughout middle and high school, into college and beyond. But somewhere in my late 20’s I just stopped writing. I stopped believing I had anything valuable or original to say. And before too long, I stopped reading it too. With the exception of Mary Oliver. For me, her New And Selected Poems is practically a sacred text, and I keep it by my bed and dip into it often.

Every day that week I read some from Oliver, and then I would visit poets.org and poetryfoundation.orgfor some new poetic inspiration. If you have any interest at all in expanding your knowledge of poetry, I highly encourage you to visit these sites. I found some interesting poets that were new to me, like Maggie Smith. Here is her poem “Good Bones.”

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
And by Natasha Tretheway, “Theories of Time and Space.”

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches

in a sky threatening rain. Cross over
the man-made beach, 26 miles of sand

dumped on a mangrove swamp—buried
terrain of the past. Bring only

what you must carry—tome of memory
its random blank pages. On the dock

where you board the boat for Ship Island,
someone will take your picture:

the photograph—who you were—
will be waiting when you return

On both websites you can listen to poets read their work. What a cool resource! (Even as I wrote this, I stopped to visit the sites and listened to a terrific poem: “original (sin)” by Alison C. Rollins.

Anyway, I am so glad that I chose this task as my first of the new year. I currently have five books of poetry checked out as we speak! Poetry is something that I feel is open and should be open to everyone, and it’s a damn shame that it doesn’t occupy a larger space in our cultural dialogue and awareness. I think people have false impressions of poetry as too elitist, or too difficult, or too pretentious. For me it is an essential art form that speaks to our shared humanity and deals with both the big questions and seemingly mundane incidents of ordinary life. I love feeling connected to poetry again. I hope and plan to continue reading more of it throughout the year! Who knows, maybe it will spark some new writing from me too.

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25 thoughts on “40 For 40 Update: Rediscovering Poetry

  1. I remember your post from last year listing your life goals, and being so impressed-and I am continually impressed! I’m assuming you like all the attention Rupi Kaur is bringing to the form…some people complain it’s too ‘obvious’ but like you, I’m a fan of any book that gets people reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember your goals list from last year, and I notice that you have not yet seen a play. May I encourage you to see a small-theater play? I feel like the big plays, the ones that cost an arm-and-a-leg, already have enough attention and crowd out other voices. My local civic theater puts on newer plays, and they don’t cast people based on how they look. Every time I’ve been, they have a multi-racial cast of people of all different sizes and ages. The point of acting is acting, and physical biases have kept many people out of theater for a long time.

    On poetry: I’m teaching creative writing this semester, poetry then fiction. My students actually accused me of not letting them “write creatively” because I was talking about the elements of poetry. They just want to free write. One student said people needed to hear what she has to say, and if it doesn’t get published it’s because haters gonna hate. If there is one phrase I want to light on fire and drop to the bottom of the ocean, it’s “haters gonna hate.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I think that most of the plays around here would be smaller ones anyway, so that shouldn’t be a problem! But it’s a great point.

      As for the poetry students. Yikes. I think one absolutely must be open to learning about the actual craft of writing. It’s too bad. I’m all for freedom of expression, but that kind of stuff can be kept in a journal, or blogged, or read at an open mike somewhere. For class, you do what your teacher tells you to do, period. Maybe this is a generational thing? (I hate to stereotype, but that attitude sounds entitled.)

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      1. I went to a conference a few years ago, and one panel really stuck with me. It was about how the different generations exist in a context, and that context alters how the students behave. Older people, like around 60-70, if I remember correctly, will struggle and have questions and not say anything because they don’t want to bother the professor. The next generation, does whatever they’re told without question. They expect lectures and do NOT want to hear other students talk. Then it moves to more discussion-based learning. Finally, we get to project-based and group-based learning. Students today have a hard time doing things on their own and without technology because that’s the model toward which high schools (and businesses) are moving. The love discussion and think that their voice (not their literal voices, but what they have to say) is very important because they’ve learned that stifled voices means exclusion.

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  3. Congratulations on all the goals that you have achieved so far. On poetry, I am happy that you have rediscovered it and I hope that reading poems will also re-ignite your passion for writing them.

    My book-club is currently reading a poetry collection called Questions for Ada. I wasn’t too keen on this review but your post has made me think of reading the book and giving poetry a chance:-)

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  4. I’m going through something similar as I turned 29 a few weeks ago and I thought: “What would I like to achieve/do before I turn 30?”. And then forgot all about the list until now. I would LOVE to hear what you (or anyone else who would like to comment!) think I should do in my last year in my 20’s.

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    1. Ah, Elena, it’s all so personal! Mine was stuff I wanted to challenge myself to do outside of my normal routines. But nothing insane like bungee-jumping, ha ha! Manageable goals, but still new to me. I wish you well coming up with your list!

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  5. I was just scanning my list of reads for January to see if I want to emphasize anything different this month and noticed that I did manage to squeeze in a graphic novel – which I was missing, more often than not, last year – and then that I had completely overlooked poetry! I agree that one/we has/have a tendency to think it’s difficult and inaccessible, even, but I think it’s like any other reading muscle, we just need to use it and it’s there for us again. Good luck wth your list! (BTW, did you ever try any of the online Yoga with Adriene classes? She works for me and the 30-day series – all available free – are not just classes but programs. This January’s series, True, was really good, I thought.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I *did* try a few of Adriene’s online classes. I enjoyed her, but I feel like I haven’t tried the right one for me yet. I need to give it another shot. I’d like to take a class in person, though, I just need to carve out the time!

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      1. I get it: her approach worked for me with her goofy-ness, which I was craving in contrast to the Gaiam videos I’d been trying, which were too-accomplished for me, and I have stuck with her and still love “where she’s coming from”. But I haven’t quite found the perfect fit for me either, in terms of tone and presentation and now I am a little more serious about it but still not very accomplished! Heheh I’m always drawn to those summer classes that they hold in local parks and greenspaces or in places where you wouldn’t think of doing yoga, like museums and whatnot. But I’d probably just end up lying in corpse pose staring at the sky or the mosaic ceiling!

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  6. I love this post. I especially liked that first poem – it’s so true – all the things I don’t want my kids to know about the world (and my evening snacking habits). Although, I feel more optimistic than the author about how much of the world is terrible. I sure hope it’s not as bad as she says. Maybe *my* mother was keeping the bad stuff from *me*!
    Good luck with the rest of your list, and with your writing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am so glad to see you continuing to pursue this list! Naomi is right; this is really about pushing yourself to achieve something. There is nothing wrong with missing something or coming up short. It’s all about the journey, right? 😉

    I only recently learned that I enjoy poetry. When I seek it out, I seek out the opportunity to listen to the author read their own works. It’s so moving to hear a poem read aloud. Plus, I gain so much more from it that way! This is a new discovery for me because the American education system taught me there is ALWAYS a right and wrong way to interpret poetry. It’s heart-breaking looking back at it. I hope that you continue to find your passion growing! I’d love to read some of your poems some day. If you are willing to share, that is. 😀

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    1. I’m bummed to hear that you had a negative school experience with poetry. I’m afraid that’s how a lot of people come to view poetry, through bad school experiences. I was lucky enough to have a few teachers over the years who really encouraged my passion for both reading and writing poetry. And they were the kind of teachers who valued listening and discussion, and I never felt a sense of “this is how you have to interpret this” from them. I’m grateful!

      I’m glad that you seem to be enjoying poetry again. Both the websites I mentioned have a TON of authors reading their own poems, which is so cool!

      If I ever write anything that I want to share, I won’t hesitate to post it. 🙂 Never say never!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks to bloggers I’ve definitely found a connection to poetry again. There are some amazing poets and passionate loves of poetry out there. I know that in many cases I just need to find the right poet or collection to get me invested again. I also love talking with people about poems once I’ve read them. That helps a lot, too! It breaks the mental barrier of “I can’t understand this” or “I don’t get it.” and helps me validate my own feelings and reactions.

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  8. You posted this while I was traveling and I’m just now getting around to saying that I love that Maggie Smith poem a lot, and that one of the things I like about really complicated and hard-to-understand poetry is that it can give me occasional glimpses of feelings and ideas that are really complicated and hard to understand.

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