Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Give Poetry a Chance
I've never been a great reader of poetry. I'm not sure exactly why. I think it has something to do with the fact that in school, we were forced to read awful poems that nobody could understand. I understand that in poetry the author must use symbolism to get a message across. After all, poems are stories told in relatively few words. But, for me they have to tell a story of sorts. The language must be beautiful and clear. I've just recently read a book that may just change my mind regarding poetry. It's the selection for my book club this month and is entitled Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey. From the blurb on the back of the book, "Through elegiac verse that honors her mothers and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South -- where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey's resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history." Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for this work.
As the blurb on the book says, the poems in the first part of the book are about Trethewey's mother and the abuse that the author witnessed as a child. Here's an example from the first part of the book.
After Your Death
First, I emptied the closets of your clothes,
threw out the bowl of fruit, bruised
from your touch, left empty the jars
you bought for preserves. The next morning,
birds rustled the fruit trees, and later
when I twisted a ripe fig loose from its stem,
I found it half eaten, the other side
already rotting, or -- like another I plucked
and split open -- being taken from the inside:
a swarm of insects hollowing it. I'm too late,
again, another space emptied by loss.
Tomorrow, the bowl I have yet to fill.
For me, this really captures life after the death of a loved one. You notice all the little things. You notice the fact that life goes on even though for you it has stopped momentarily. The sun still shines; the birds still sing. You have errands to do. But, it's not the same. It'll never be the same again.
My next choice in honor of Poetry Month is Transformations by Anne Sexton. This is also a part of a couple of reading challenges -- The Year of Reading Dangerously and Once Upon a Time II. If you're a poetry novice like me, you may want to stretch your wings a little and try some poetry this month. You can subscribe to receive a poem a day during the month by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'subscribe.' The Academy of American Poets does something similar. Check it out at www.poets.org.