Poetry and I have spent the past two weeks together, each circling slowly about the other and making tentative overtures. Having admitted out loud and on the Internet that I had a general fear of poetry, the editors dared me to read a poem a day and see if I could make peace with this alien life form. Not wanting to appear standoffish, I extended a hand of friendship and promised to play nice if poetry would.
As is often the case when forming new acquaintances, it’s helpful to have a mutual friend to make proper introductions. Megan Willome and I have been exchanging email messages, each responding to the daily offerings arriving in our inboxes via Every Day Poems. While our interaction may not rank among the greatest literary correspondences of all time, we have been having fun. And Megan has been teaching me.
At first, my responses were crude. I found myself sounding like a record-rating teenager in the American Bandstand days of yore:
Well it has a nice beat, Dick, but I can’t dance to it.
I said things like, “I like it, but I don’t know why, ” or “Why is that a poem?”
Megan pointed me toward tutorials and field guides. She shared her own impressions. She told me how certain poems made her feel and what memories they evoked. Megan spoke with warmth and humor, respect for words and, perhaps, even love.
One day she responded to a poem simply by saying, “I resent having to look up words.”
“Me too, ” I typed back. Enough said.
Megan gave me permission to like or dislike a poem for any reason, or no reason at all.
Now I’ll admit, what I thought I knew about poetry probably wouldn’t fill a thimble. But I was fairly certain I knew what a haiku was. But then Let the Mosquito came along:
Let the mosquito
land. Then you can
— L.L. Barkat
Megan told me it was a haiku, a modern one, which meant traditional rules didn’t so much apply. She referred me to an infographic on haiku, and now I’m beginning to question many of my prior long-standing assumptions.
Next thing you know, someone will try to convince me Santa Claus isn’t real.
These first two weeks have been a crash course in unlearning things I thought I knew, or thought I should know, and learning instead simply to respond. I read A Love Poem by Benjamin Myers. Its rhythm reminded me of the rocking of a porch swing. I began thinking about all the summer nights my dad spent sitting on the one at my childhood home, listening to baseball games on his radio.
Megan said, “You’re doing great! If the rhythm of a poem makes you think of a porch swing, which in turn makes you think of your dad, then that’s a good poem. It was enjoyable in and of itself, and it also led you somewhere else.”
We’ve talked about line breaks and spacing in poetry, but much of that remains a mystery to me. After Megan pointed out the way L. L. Barkat used space to slow the reader down in her poem, Woman, I responded with one of my own. Get ready folks, because this is profound:
Ms. Barkat’s poems leave spaces
In the oddest of places.
Her words read to me like a riddle.
But she invited me one day
Over to Tweetspeak to play
So I wrote words to make readers giggle.
Two weeks into The Poetry Dare, I cannot yet claim this life form and I have become friends. But I believe we are warming up to one another. I’ve patted it on the head a few times, and have yet to have my hand bitten.
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