How to Fall in Love With Poetry
It has been almost three years since I started learning a poem By Heart each month. When the practice (and column) was suggested, I balked. Surely I didn’t need to memorize poetry to appreciate poetry. But I did need to memorize poetry to truly fall in love with it.
So far I have learned thirty-six poems, creating thirty-six anchor points for my soul.
I could tell you how learning poems By Heart has had benefits, like strengthening mental focus and clarity. I could tell you about moments of boredom or moments of fear when a poem’s line has burst forth, right when needed. But it’s deeper than that. Poetry is not some tonic to be applied daily. It’s my love.
Tonight, I am in love with poetry,
with the good words that saved me,
These opening lines are from Dorianne Laux’s Tonight I Am In Love. Laux goes on to pull images and words from her poem-loves. She describes these poem-loves as “bones,” a skeleton on which to build a life.
Poetry Time consists of four activities, which take a total of about 15 minutes
1) Make a cup of tea.
2) Listen to a poetry podcast. It started with The Slowdown, but has since migrated.
3) Take five minutes to read aloud and meditate on the By Heart poem of the month.
4) Recite a previous By Heart poem.
I have no tricks for memorization — simply time and tea. A few minutes a day, every weekday of the month, adds up.
Dorianne Laux ends her poem with this stanza:
They could not have known how I would love them,
worlds fallen from their mortal fingers.
When I cannot see to read or walk alone
along the slough, I will hear you, I will
bring the longing in your voices to rest
against my old, tired heart and call you back.
Already I have thirty-six loves made manifest: a rib, a femur, a clavicle. How many bones until I am whole?
By Heart for August
For the next By Heart gathering, August 27, we’ll learn Abigail Carroll’s “What Men Die For Lack Of,” another poem about poetry. See how many lines you can identify!
What Men Die For Lack Of
It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. – William Carlos Williams
Daffodils—ten thousand at a glance.
A globed fruit, palpable and mute.
Pockets full of lichens and seeds.
Apple-bent mossed cottage trees.
Lamb-white days, a lilting house.
Winnings risked on pitch and toss.
Boatmens’ songs, mechanics’ songs.
Rose moles on the skin of trout.
A cherry hung with bloom, a cherry hung with snow.
The flow of Julia’s silks, the liquefaction of her clothes.
An angel robed in real linen, spun on a definite loom.
Bald and wild, the O-gape of the moon.
Telephone poles holding out their arms to birds.
A hammock, a field of sunlight between two pines.
Nine bean rows and nine and fifty swans.
A leaping tongue of bloom spared by a scythe.
Magenta pokeweed sprung in a vacant lot.
The oily, rainbowed deck of a rented boat.
White chickens, a red wheelbarrow glazed with rain.
Marbles and puddles and whistling far and wee.
Truth told slant, truth that dazzles gradually.
– Abigail Carroll
Browse more By Heart
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro