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 poetryparade@yahoo.com with the subject line 'subscribe.' The Academy of American Poets does something similar. Check it out at www.poets.org.


Iliana said...

I wasn't a reader of poetry in school either. I think my teachers didn't know much about poetry themselves to be able to teach it. It seems like all they cared about was meter!
Now, I really enjoy it. I like this poem you posted. I'm going to dig around in my poetry books and celebrate poetry month by posting some poetry too :)

Lisa said...

iliana, I think a lot of people have had the same experience with poetry in school. It's a shame because there is some really good poetry out there. It's like every other type of writing -- you won't like it all, but there's something for everyone. Happy Poetry Month!

Andi said...

I hope you enjoy Transformations as much as I have over the years. It's one I read continually, over and over, and in snatches when my reading tolerance is low. Sexton has a sardonic, witty tone that sometimes flows over into tragedy. Such a great poet.

I've never been a big poetry reader either, with the exception of the poems I locked onto in school and really took a shine to. Examples: "The Waste Land" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," by T.S. Eliot. Those are my very favorites.

Lisa said...

andi, I'm actually looking forward to Transformations. I'll try to get my hands on the other two poems you mentioned, as well. I've heard a lot about Waste Land but haven't ever read it. I may just turn into a poetry reader, yet.

Lisa said...

andi, I'm actually looking forward to Transformations. I'll try to get my hands on the other two poems you mentioned, as well. I've heard a lot about Waste Land but haven't ever read it. I may just turn into a poetry reader, yet.

Anonymous said...

I've been seeing so much about Transformations on various sites, I'm really getting quite interested in reading it.

I've read several biographies of Sexton, but not a lot of her poetry.

I really enjoyed this poem on your post today, and quite agree that it captures the emotion felt upon the death of a loved one.

Dorothy W. said...

I think it's a matter of finding the kind of poetry you like, of what works for you. It's too bad that school turns off so many readers from poetry! I teach it, and I hope I don't have that effect. Certainly many of my students are afraid of it.

Lisa said...

ravenousreader, I'm excited about reading Transformations. As I said, I'm pretty much a poetry novice. So, I'm looking forward to finding some poetry that I like.

dorothy, you're right. It is just a matter of finding the type of poetry that you like. But, I guess I have just been intimidated by it in the past. I'm sure you do a wonderful job with your students. :)