"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

01 December 2006

Poetry Meme

LuCindy tagged me for this meme, so here goes:

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was....I actually have no idea whatsoever. I know my mom played music a lot, and I suppose she read poetry to me, though I don’t recall her doing so. All I know is that poetry has always been as natural a part of my life as breathing. I never went through a “I don’t understand poetry” or “poetry is too boring/hard/obscure” phase as so many of my students – even English majors – seem to do.

The first poem I can remember really reacting to was Tennyson’s “Two Voices.” I liked it when I read it for a college assignment, then my atheist professor scoffed at it in class, saying it was far too simplistic to believe that the doubts of the speaker – so strong that he considered suicide because life appeared without hope – could be resolved by hearing church bells and seeing a family on their way to church. But I knew that the resolution was absolutely perfect, because I’d experienced it myself – the simplest image of Truth has remarkable power over despair, far more power even than the mere rational arguments of Truth. “Two Voices” ever since has been my idea of a poem that images Truth – and a reminder of the impossibility of the unregenerate mind to grasp that Truth.

2. I was forced to memorize Robert Frost’s “Birches” in school and........ ah, my favorite teacher ever, ever. Wonderful Miss Angell. Sadly, we only had her first semester, as she had a nervous breakdown over Christmas – perhaps that’s why I’ve always feared teaching at the high school level? She made us memorize a poem so that we could write it out letter-perfect. I’ve loved “Birches” ever since. She also introduced me to Winnie-the-Pooh – she read a chapter aloud once a week, I believe. What a wonderful teacher, who loved language for its sound and made me realize that I loved its sounds, too.

3. I read/don't read poetry because.... I read poetry because it speaks to me in a way no other kind of writing can. The beauty of the language; the way an image becomes real and deep, far beyond its literal existence; the way it takes me out of myself; the beauty, the sheer beauty . . . *

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is ....... Gerard Manley Hopkins – any of the Terrible Sonnets but perhaps “Carrion Comfort” most; T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi”; Robert Browning’s “An Epistle”; anything by Mary Oliver, perhaps “Roses, Late Summer” and “The Ponds” foremost; Christina Rossetti – impossible to choose. Which one depends on my mood at the time I’m asked.

5. I write/don't write poetry, but.............. I don’t write poetry, but it is vital to my existence. It reminds me of the depth of beauty available, often in the most unexpected places, in a broken world, and that eloquence is worth pursuing.

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature..... LuCindy wrote “it is less entertaining, for the most part, and more demanding,” which I agree with wholeheartedly; it appeals to both my intellect and my heart.

7. I find poetry...... in books recommended by friends and through the anthologies I teach from. I sometimes see poetry in physical activity – a basketball team working together flawlessly, an ice-skating routine. I envy my poet friends who see poetry in everything, but one can only pursue so many avenues in life . . .

8. The last time I heard poetry.... was reading it in class the other day. I read poetry all the time in lit classes. I rarely ask students to read because so many really can’t do it well at all, and I haven’t time to teach them. However, my Victorian Lit students did a poetry reading this semester and I’ve seldom heard Hopkins and Rossetti so well-read. I was impressed. The last time I heard a poet read her own work was when LuCindy was here at the college, what, 2, 3 years ago? I wish I could hear her every day.

9. I think poetry is like.... an offering of pure beauty clothed in words, Truth in imagery, love come alive.

* To clarify – I keep saying I love poetry for its beauty, and I don’t mean by that any kind of “prettiness.” Some of the most beautiful and moving poems I know are not “pretty”; they are harsh, maybe even dissonant, and treat ugly subjects, for example, “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owens, or Lawrence’s “Do Not Go Gentle.” Beauty has to do with the way the sounds and images are entwined to create an eloquence appropriate to the subject and not to be found in any other kind of writing – though an occasional fiction writer or essayist comes close, such as Zora Neale Hurston and Annie Dillard.

Megan, want to try it? Maybe you, Captain?

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