Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Poem It Out

This month I've been lucky enough to take a wonderful online class, Poem It Out, led by Liz Lamoreux. It's a stress-free introduction (or re-introduction) to reading and writing poetry. I don't know how I missed connecting with poetry during high school and college (liberal arts FAIL?), but I'm making up for lost time. (Oh dear, you should see the new Moleskines and fancypancy pens that I now have the excuse to buy.)

I'm loving how poetry can hold the non-linear, illogical parts of life. It's been a way for me to process the big events and emotions of the past year. And of course I love to play with words. I feel a little like I'm revisiting my junior-high angst-y self when I'm writing my own poems, but I figure I need to pass through that developmental stage that I missed.

I'll share a less serious little ditty I wrote on the theme of "eavesdropping."

I don't think the toddler could open
his bird-mouth any wider
He calls upon
to stuff in the bran muffin.
"Hold the milk down here, so it
doesn't spill," warns the mama.
And I think,
your two-year-old is eating a whole
bran muffin;
I think
spilled milk
will be the least of your

I'm really loving the poets Tony Hoagland, Christian Wiman, and Naomi Shihab Nye. You can find a bunch of their examples on the Poetry Foundation and Writer's Almanac websites. Here's one of my favorites from Naomi Shihab Nye:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

I'd love to hear what poets and poems you love.


  1. Writing in poetry is liberating because it allows for disjointedness. I don't have all the pressure to have topic sentences/details/support of regular paragraphs. But if you ask Daniel, I'm sure poetry takes more time because all of his poems rhyme, and usually are dirty.

  2. I love Naomi Shihab Nye! She came to Madison a few years back and I basically cried through her entire reading.

  3. When I first read your poem on our classroom site, I laughed out loud. I LOVE IT!

    Thank you for sharing your light. This has been such a fun adventure in poetry! So glad you came along.

  4. For starters, Gerard Manley Hopkins, "God's Grandeur"

    John Donne, "Batter My Heart"

    Wislawa Szymborska
    Nobel lecture
    "Whatever inspiration is, it's born from a continuous 'I don't know.'"

  5. Here's one by my poetry teacher from college, Kay Murphy

    To Preserve What's Sacred

    By a mountain stream bedded with pebbles,
    perfectly lined with boulders as a path
    for salmon, an aging ponderosa pine
    dreams above my head; here, where I could
    drown, hang myself, or sit till the tree
    falls on me from loneliness, what's sacred
    is what is left of choosing.
    The water
    rushes on; some tries to hurry up the tree,
    frothing, snagging on the trunk, then
    catches at itself and disappears; the rest
    tries to draw the tree along downstream
    where tow boys fish, or pretend to,
    while a woman suns herself and watches
    for a flare of pink.
    It's not the future
    of any pine tree we're concerned for,
    but for our own flesh. Now.
    I'd like to live
    inside that tree; let the sun determine
    where I move; not twitch and jump at every
    deer fly that lights and leaves a spot of red.
    I'd say nothing, be a statement of existence,
    perfect in whatever shape and hardness
    given me; not ageless, just not minding age.



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