In the secret life and times of me, it will be discovered that I love poetry.
I don’t always understand it, I don’t always know how to read it, but for some reason I feel it in a way that is pretty unexpected to me. Is poetry like that for most people? I feel that it’s one of those secretive things, though I have no idea why it should be. How many people do you actually know who read poetry? Maybe a lot, but that’s the point right, you (or I) don’t know for sure because it’s never discussed because it’s a secret.
April is Poetry Month.
(20% off poetry books at the Odyssey in case you’re interested.)
In honor of this, I’ve picked up some old favorites and discovered some new-to-me, and have decided to step out of the poetry closet, declare to be a poetry-lover, and share some of my favorites with you.
In exploring the history of my love affair with poetry, I’ve discovered it began much earlier than I expected. In 6th grade, I was attending a public school program for the Gifted and Talented (a piece of irony that never escaped my mother – she often called it a program for the Precocious and Naughty); one of the yearly assignments was to memorize a piece of something and then perform it in front of some select group of people (it may have been the whole school or just the whole grade, I don’t remember). At the ripe old age of 11, guess what I chose to recite. No, not Dr. Seuss, as did the girl who won the contest (oh, did I not mention that part? Yes, it was a contest). Instead, I memorized and recited, to the snores of the entire audience, Robert Louis Stevenson’s “To Minnie”. I still remember some of it:
The red room with the giant bed
Where none but elders laid their head;
The little room where you and I
Did for awhile together lie
And, simple suitor, I your hand
In decent marriage did demand…
Why on earth did I choose this poem?!? I remember several people – teachers, parents – try to talk me out of it, but that was the one I wanted. Reading back over it now, I know for sure I didn’t understand half of what I was saying. But I was so obstinate! I gave a thoroughly boring performance, I’m sure, and I even think it might have been captured on video somewhere (probably mildewing in a box of VHS tapes forgotten in someone’s basement in southern Indiana). Needless to say, I did not even place among the contest winners, but I’m so glad I stuck with what spoke to me. See, my bullheadedness began way back in the day.
The next poem to fascinate me was by William Blake, and he remains one of my favorites to this day:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
I give myself extra points for loving this poem even before it was used in a Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie.
Next came e.e. cummings, who I have to admit, I didn’t discover until college:
Kisses are a better fate than wisdom.
And now, only recently have I read Nikki Giovanni. Her book Bicycles:Love Poems was featured at the Odyssey for both February and April, but I didn’t read it until last week (or maybe the week before?). I am in love all over again (in love with love, not with anyone in particular), and I blame this book for my recent mood swings, odd dreams, and minor bouts of love-lorn depression. Dear Nikki Giovanni, I was doing just fine until you came along to stir up all those old feelings again! Must mean you’re doing something right, dammit.
If I had never been in your arms
Never danced that dance
Never inhaled your slightly sweaty odor
Maybe I could sleep at night
If I had never held your hand
Never been so close
To the most kissable lips in the universe
Never wanted ever so much
To rest my tongue in your dimple
Maybe I could sleep at night
If I wasn’t so curious
About whether or not you snore
And when you sleep do you cuddle your pillow
What you say when you wake up
And if I tickle you
Will you heartedly laugh
If this enchantment
If this question I ache to ask
could be answered
If only I could stop dreaming
Maybe I could sleep