Tuesday, June 08, 2010
On a recent conference call with colleagues regarding a creative project, one of the poets in the conversation stated that he will always remember the first time he read a poem by Alice Walker. That moment of poetry created an impression so lasting that he wound up seeking the path of poet himself.
We all have that one poem that jarred us into the art form. That poem that made us say, WOW! Or gave us reason to say, "Holy cow! You can say that?!" Or "Hokey smokes, you can write it that way?!"
When I was 13 years old, on a sunny afternoon, I discovered William Blake's "The Tyger" reprinted in some magazine and I was mesmerized by the words, all that lay behind them. I ran to the kitchen and read the poem to my Mom. This was a fabulous sharing between us. For me, I was discovering something truly magical in language. My mother was seeing that her daughter was developing not just as a budding young writer but as a thinking individual. Unfortunately, she died a few months later so she has not seen the result of that moment but I trust she knew what was coming.
The other day, I was preparing for an adult writing workshop at the Downtown Writer's Center. I wandered around the internet for tribute poems to meet the theme of the weekly writing prompt, when I landed on e.e. cummings' "somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond" I had to say the poem out loud, as I have done countless times since I first read this poem in high school. This is the poem that I first truly fell in love with, a love poem itself but so much more. The perfume off the tongue as I speak the words, the caesura that pause like a moment between gusts of summer breeze, the passion so understated, the curious syntax and graphics that cummings brought to the world or poetry, all of it was familiar and comforting.
Robert Pinksy created the Favorite Poem Project from this same sort of moment. We all have a connection to poetry, just some of us were bludgeoned by poor teaching, a stern grandparent, who knows. But the poems stand the test of time and memory. Go back to that poem you first remember. Speak it to the clouds. Give yourself the gift once again. A flood of memories will ensue, giving you reasons to write new work, reasons to smile, a moment to reflect.