“It’s easy,” my son says. “Anyone can do it.”
I watch as he sits at the piano, music flowing from his heart and soul straight through to his fingertips. He’s taken formal lessons and been trained in music theory, but sometimes the music just seems to pour through him as though he’s unable to stop it. He’ll sit at the keyboard and compose his own melodies or improvise on a theme from a movie score or popular radio. Sometimes I think he was born with a jazz brain, and he comprehends all of life through its filter.
My son’s piano teacher, who is a very different sort than Gertrude who labored in vain to instruct me, tried to show me how to improvise on a simple piece of music. She handed me a book which promised to crack open mysteries about chord inversions, left-hand patterns, and various rhythmic styles.
I tried adding little flourishes here and there to songs like Camptown Races and Yankee Doodle, but for the life of me, I could not make myself play notes not written on the page. My brain just doesn’t work like my son’s. His teacher told me I needed to go home, pour myself a glass of wine, lighten up and try again.
I’m wondering if there isn’t such a thing as a poetry brain.
This summer, since accepting the Poetry Dare (reading a poem a day and discussing it with my poetry buddy Megan Willome), I’ve grown comfortable being in the same room with what I once considered an alien life form. I may have even invited the alien to climb up and sit next to me in the good leather chair a time or two when no one was watching. Several who have commented during the course of this series have offered suggestions about how I might begin writing my own poetry.
It’s one thing, becoming friends with an alien life form. Creating my own, however, is an extra-terrestrial of a whole different color.
This project is helping me develop a sense of awe for what poets do with words. It seems to me they perceive common objects and events in poetic form. They see, hear, and comprehend everyday life, and then translate those experiences using the most exquisite words, shapes, rhythms, and sounds. Poetry seems to flow through their hearts and souls and straight through their fingertips in much the same way music does for my son.
In one of our earliest conversations, Megan and I discussed the poem No More Same Old Silly Love Songs:
When the radio in my car broke I started to notice the trees.
I began to stop exaggerating the color of leaves,
how their reds and oranges needed no wordy embellishment.
I started to open the window and smell the wet pavement
after morning rain. Crows on the phone line,
their blackness and stubborn dignity. I even noticed my hands
gripping the wheel, the small dark hairs, the skin,
the knuckles and the perfect blue veins.
— Neil Carpathios
“I like the description of the crows as having stubborn dignity,” I wrote to Megan. “Where do you poets come up with phrases like that?”
If shows like American Idol have taught the good people of this country anything, (and, I’ll admit, my premise here is shaky at best) they reveal that not all who believe they can sing truly have a gift.
Can everyone write poetry? Or could it be this gift is reserved for those born with a poetry brain?
“No,” I told my son. “Not everyone can do what you do. It’s not easy.”
Yet I believe there is value in offering piano lessons to anyone who wants them. Though few may win tickets to Hollywood for their singing ability, who among us doesn’t belt out Broadway show tunes in the shower using our best Ethel Merman voice? Just me? Okay then, never mind.
Will I ever accept a dare to write poetry? I don’t know. If I do, I’m sure I’ll need an awfully large glass of wine.
Follow the rest of Nancy and Megan’s journey in Operation Poetry Dare:
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