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.
The 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 minein a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,a thousand deliciously ill-advised waysI’ll keep from my children. The world is at leastfifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservativeestimate, 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 worldis at least half terrible, and for every kindstranger, there is one who would break you,though I keep this from my children. I am tryingto sell them the world. Any decent realtor,walking you through a real shithole, chirps onabout good bones: This place could be beautiful,right? You could make this place beautiful.
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.