Thursday, February 20, 2014

Grandfather/advised me:/Learn a trade/I learned/to sit at desk/and condense/No layoff/from this/condensery ~ Niedecker

For reasons unknown, I reached for the book of “Modern Poetry” that I bought for a class during my undergrad days. It lines my shelf with the Norton Anthology of Poetry by Women, one by Langston Hughes, and even a book on Greek Mythology that I haven’t wanted to part with in the 10 (jeez, can’t believe it’s been such a short time!) years since undergrad.

Maybe part of this memory-lane path was struck by my friend’s photo on Facebook of an abandoned shopping cart in New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I spent my undergrad years. Maybe I just wanted to read some poetry this morning.

It was interesting to me in grad school, one of the teachers asked us, poets all, if we had any books of poetry at home. My shelves, besides those few relic anthologies I rarely look at, pretty much housed some novels and a bunch of “spiritual” books.

I kept a few of the mandatory books we were required to purchase during those two years at Mills, and even found myself going to the poetry section of the bookstore once, purchasing from titles alone, Mary Karr’s Sinners Welcome and one with this lovely title:

            If there is something to desire,/
            There will be something to regret./
            If there is something to regret,/
            There will be something to recall./
            If there is something to recall,/
            There was nothing to regret./
            If there was nothing to regret,/
            There was nothing to desire.

by Vera Pavlova.

Tell me that’s not a great title! And message.

Poetry is a strange thing to “read.” There are some books you want to read page after page, because it does read like a novel, and you are impelled forward through the pages of the “story,” the landscape.

But, much of poetry insists that you sit with each piece, each page for longer than 30 seconds.

Much of poetry, in my own limited estimation, calls you to allow the words to melt like a fine piece of dark chocolate. You sense the bitterness, the sweetness, the texture, the mouth-feel. You turn it over and under your tongue, attempting to pry all the secrets out of this square bit of matter before it is gone. And afterward, you notice around inside your mouth where the taste remains, what it reminds you of. If you “liked” it.

Poetry is like that.

A marathon, not a sprint. An 8-course meal, not fast food.

Here is a piece from Pavlova’s book I shall choose at random, because I actually haven’t read the book, though I bought it two years ago – because poetry requires that time, and most times, us modern folk won’t allow it. So, here’s to taking a moment to savor the delicacy of language:

Eternalize me just a bit:
            take some snow and sculpt me in it,
            with your warm and bare palm
            polish me until I shine…

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