Sunday, April 23, 2017

The magic of poetry #NPM17

I hope you had a fantastic Earth Day yesterday. I can't quite decide if today is the beginning of the last week of April or the end of the third week of National Poetry Month. Is Sunday the beginning or your week or its end? Perhaps it's both, just as poetry is both read and heard. I confess that almost all of the poetry I encounter is read, unless I go to a reading or follow the suggestion for day 23 of #NPM17, and "Watch Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s P.O.P (Poets on Poetry) videos."

magical view
magical view

I watched a few of those videos this morning and discovered, quite literally, new voices, more correctly voices new to me. By poking around on the Vimeo channel, I also got to hear the voices of some poets whose written work I've long admired. Not all poets, no matter how talented they may be as writers, read well even their own work. I hadn't thought of that before. I had just assumed that any poet would read aloud a poem they had authored, imbuing it not just with authenticity, but with -- what? -- magic?! I suppose that's about as valid a perception as thinking all songwriters are great singers or musicians. It's also part of an education that there's more than one "correct" way to read, internally or aloud, a poem.

national poetry month

When you read, can you hear the voice inside your head? Is it your voice? A different one? Male, female? Old, young? Soft, loud? Watch some of the videos and listen to the poets. See if that awakens or changes the voice you hear internally. Listen to Naomi Shihab Nye's Gate A-4 from last year's "Poets Creating Community." Doesn't that make you think of your grandmother, or your aging mother, and how you would want her treated? And then watch and hear Joy Harjo's magical, mystical, Remember. Both poets and poems are part of poetry's gentle power to teach us about our relationships with each other and our places in the universe, to bring the magic of poetry into our lives.

This Magic Moment



            Poetry does make things happen. A friend says, “I wanted
to let you know that my stepfather is chattering like
            a schoolboy about a poem of yours on my Facebook page.
This may not seem like much to you, but this guy has been
            giving me a hard time since I was two. You built a bridge
between people who never understood each other before.”
            How’d that happen? Magic, that’s how. I know the poem

            she means; it took me years to write it. Songwriter
Doc Pomus was crippled by polio, and he wrote once
            about this dream he had again and again: “I used to believe
in magic and flying and that one morning I would wake up
            and all the bad things were bad dreams. . . . And I would
get out of the wheelchair and walk and not with braces
            and not with crutches,” though when the light came through

            the window in the morning, there he was, encased
in steel and leather from hip to ankle, unable to move.
            Again and again he has the dream, and then one day
he writes “This Magic Moment,” where the guy meets
            the girl, and suddenly he has everything he wants. How?
Magic! Wouldn’t you love to have saved pale Keats
            with his blood-speck’d lips? And Fanny, her skin like cream,

            listening through the wall. He dies with his lungs on fire,
she mourns, marries, gives birth, and, after her husband dies,
            gives Keats’ letters to her children—she had kept them all
that time. We have them, and we have his poems. And his
            tool kit, too: look what he does in the “Ode to a Nightingale.”
Nobody bolts music and lyrics together the way Keats does,
            no one pays more attention to detail. There’s a Jack Gilbert

            poem that begins with a real incident from World War II,
when the Polish cavalry rode out against the Germans
            with their swords glittering, only the Germans had tanks.
But that’s not bravery, says Gilbert. Bravery is doing
            the same thing every day when you don’t want to.
Not the marvelous but the familiar, over and over again.
            Do that, and the magic will come. My dad was frail

            and distracted in his last hours. My mother said he asked,
Do we have enough money? and when she said yes, he said,
            Then let’s just get in the Buick and go. He was looking
at car trips, thirty-cent gas, roadside picnics, these new things
            they called motels. My brother, me, the little house
we lived in, fifty years of marriage, a long and happy life as
            a Chaucer scholar: all that was in the sunny days to come.


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