Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Some poetry sticks in our minds. Hopefully, it is good poetry, which is the most memorable.  

I have never forgotten rhyming couplets from my long ago childhood. They would not make the good poetry list, but they come unsummoned  to haunt me around this time of year, when we are susceptible to memories of Christmases past…happy memories, painful ones and some a little weird. ’Tis the season of jolly bells and Scrooge rattling his chains.

The first graders in the Catholic School I attended were part of the annual Christmas pageant. We stood dutifully in our various homemade Christmas-appropriate costumes (shepherds, kings, angels), each holding a letter in front of us. We strung ourselves across the stage spelling out Merry Christmas. The good but rushed nuns made up letter-specific rhyming couplets for us each to recite.  My letter, which I held in front of my tinsel-belted, white sheet angel costume was the Y in Merry.  When my turn came, I recited my couplet from memory, in what I'm sure was a less than angelic voice. “Y is for Yuletide which we keep every year. May Christ be its center as it approaches more near.”

Oh my! The nuns who drilled correct grammar into our young brains every day must have been desperate as the Christmas play approached.  If we had said more near instead of nearer within their earshot, we would have received a firm correction. But there it came…tumbling from my lips without a ripple of disapproval.

At this time of year this couplet sneaks back into my consciousness at odd moments, along with a vision of myself as a six year old angel. I cheerfully give up any analysis and look to the meaning of the message. Let Christmas and all the other holidays celebrated around this time of year remind us to take ourselves out of the center of things and focus on others.  Don’t worry about getting everything just right.  Give yourself poetic license to move more near to what is meaningful.  Offer as much loving kindness and compassion as you are able to the other people who touch your life.  Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Poetry of Nature

Lower Kimball Lake, NH
by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

When we look for poems about nature, we usually expect to find lyrical poetry about the beauty of nature…poems about stunning landscapes or the change of seasons. We desire to bask in words describing nature’s gifts, words that help us to picture the exquisiteness of a field of flowers or of a singular beauteous bloom.

The poets came through for us, starting with the early Greek poets and their pastoral idylls and moving through time with Emerson, Frost, Wordsworth, Yeats, Dickinson, to the present with poets like Snyder, Oliver, Williams and Gluck (to name a few). I love these poems.

After the strongest hurricane ever hit Mexico, I became curious about the poetry written about the destructive side of nature. As inhabitants of the earth, subject to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, blizzards, earthquakes, I knew that nature could be fierce and that there had to be poems about such catastrophes. They just didn’t come to mind as readily.

I did find some, even written by the same poets as listed above, but not as many seemed available as the more romanticized versions of nature. They made for a thrilling, sometimes chilling read.  Basho, a master of haiku, the distillation of nature poems, explored nature’s darker, more challenging side in his work.

Here’s one of his that gives us layers of meaning in this autumn season, also the season of numerous political debates.
                               speaking out
                              my lips are cold
                              in autumn wind

Friday, June 26, 2015

At the Turquoise Table: Poetry In The News

At the Turquoise Table: Poetry In The News

Poetry In The News

Jeffery Brown is a Journalist and PBS Chief Correspondent for Arts, Culture and Society. He co-anchors the nightly news program on PBS and also hosts “Art Beat”, the News Hour’s online arts and culture segment.

As a reporter, Brown speaks of the necessity of sticking to the facts and of not being able to express the emotions that sometimes arise with the telling of a particular news story.  He has now expressed some of these emotions in his recently published book of poetry aptly called “The News:Poems”.

The New Poet Laureate is the first Latino named to that position.  
Jose Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera is the son of Mexican immigrants.  He was born in California to migrant farm worker parents. He traveled up and down California with his family, but with the help of a program for disadvantaged students was able to attend UCLA. He went on to earn a masters degree in Sociology from Stanford, but then turned to the realization of his passion for writing by attending the Iowa Writers Workshop for a MFA in poetry.

Write he did…poems, plays, children’s books…both in English and Spanish, sometimes combining both in one work.

Connecting with people is important to Herrera. “I used to stand on the corner in San Diego with poems sticking out of my hip pocket, asking people if there was a place where I could read poems.” It promises to be a lively year ahead for Poetry with our new Poet Laureate at the helm. Bienvenido Juan Felipe Herrera!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Is it About Poetry?

I recently read two articles in the newspaper that touched and amazed me and started me wondering what it is about poetry that makes it powerful. The first story concerned a soldier, who upon killing his enemy decided to go through the dead man’s pockets. I’m not sure what motivated him to do this or what he hoped to find, but what he found shocked and puzzled him.  There on a folded piece of paper was a poem.

The second story was about a mother’s effort to reach her troubled teen-aged daughter who was deeply depressed. Her daughter was acting out her despair in a rebellious way by refusing to wear shoes to school. It came to an ultimatum from the school, shoes or no school. Shoes had become a touch point, a focus of her daughter’s depression. The mother was inspired to use the shoes as a place of connection and hopefully of healing. She began to leave a folded poem in her daughter’s shoe each morning to let her see 
that “people had been in pain before and had struggled to find hope.”  The poets took that pain, that struggle and put those thoughts into the best, sparest words they could.
After some time, the mother noted a change in her daughter…the dark cloud seemed to lift a bit.  At the same time, she found the poems unfolded in her daughter’s pockets.
She was reading them and they were beginning to have an effect. “Poetry knew where hope lived.”

An enemy soldier carrying a poem in his pocket, a troubled teen finding a poem in her shoe every day, reading it and finding hope again. Pretty powerful stuff.  I am not promising you a magic elixir, but it seems there is something about poetry that deeply touches the human heart, gives it comfort and helps it to heal. And perhaps more.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Science and Poetry

Strange Bedfellows.  Not Necessarily.

A friend and I attended a poetry reading at the Folger Library in D.C. in December.  Rafael Campo, a poet and a medical doctor read the poetry of Emily Dickinson, as well as some of his own.

Wait a minute…a medical doctor writing poetry…that had to be interesting.  It was! 
Rafael Campo is a practicing physician at Harvard Medical School and at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He is also a published poet since 1993.  He has published several books of poetry and two prose collections, including “The Healing Art: A Doctor’s Black Bag of Poetry.” 

There it is in the title…the merging of science and poetry, a confession of Campo’s strong belief that poetry (and other arts) is an effective treatment for our illnesses.  Poetry can heal us not only emotionally but physically.  Art nurtures that strong connection that exists between our mind/heart and our body.

Campo’s poems describe his world vividly, blood and guts, birth and death, sickness and recovery.  As part of his healing path, Campo also teaches writing classes to patients and medical students. Campo’s hope is that these future doctors will perhaps become more sensitive, more personal, more human, and more compassionate in their interactions with patients through their contact with poetry.

In his lecture, Campo noted Emily Dickinson’s profound scientific knowledge that permeated her nature poetry.  She had studied botany for years and worked in her home garden with devotion.  To know something so well may inspire deep feelings of awe and inspire the poet to write about them lyrically.

I think Emily Dickinson did in the past and Rafael Campo is doing so today.

Emily Dickinson
Rafael Campo