Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

Poetry Schmoetry

on September 2, 2014


This is a picture of the books I have right now on my desk; a “shelfie” you might call it. Most of them are books of poetry; you’ll find Sylvia Plath, Billy Collins and Seamus Heaney here. I also have the three most recent editions of the annual anthology “The Best American Poetry“, as well as the volume that came out last year to commemorate the 25th anniversary of that publication. There are books by writers about writing – Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Steven Pressfield are evident. There is a book about memoir writing called “Handling the Truth“, which title I can’t read without picturing the actor Jack Nicholson, red faced and yelling.I keep my Elements of Style close to me. David Sedaris is here as well, in case I need a quick dip into whimsy. At the end are various notebooks where I scribble things I then forget I’ve written. I probably ought to look through them sometime.

I have read most of these books in their entirety at least once (except Sylvia Plath, whom I admire but good grief she’s a lot of work sometimes). I have found inspiration in them, and joy, and wistfulness, and hard truths. Mostly, I feel like there is never enough time to read everything I want to. I picked up Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” three weeks ago and have yet to crack the cover. I need to read William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, because really, how can I call myself a writer if I’ve never read Faulkner? And don’t get me started on all the poets I’ve never read! That list is impossibly long, and it seems to get longer all the time.

I keep all this poetry close to me because I believe that all good writing is inherently poetic. All writers struggle with describing the truth of something. In poetry, it is the truth of the emotion or event or observation. In fiction, it is the truth of the characters in the story. Memoirists try to capture the truth of their own life stories, at least as they see it.

I also keep the poetry close because almost every writer whose advice I’ve heard says that to write well, you have to have a sense of poetry. You don’t necessarily need to write it, but you do need to read it, and read extensively. I have come to love it, and to respect it, and to want to do it. But I’m frightened; the idea of writing poetry feels like jumping off of a cliff to me, but it’s the only way to find out if I can fly.

I wish I could explain the desire I feel for poetry. It’s like falling in love; I want to know it, to understand it, and for it to understand me. How can a poem understand me? Well, that’s the magic, isn’t it?

What poets or writers transport you?


Photo by Amanda Taylor Brooks (c) 2014

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