Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

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It’s National Poetry Month again! I adore National Poetry Month. For one thing, it’s April, and that’s my birthday month. So I get presents (which I also adore). But it’s also an entire month when I can talk about poetry, write about poetry, admit to loving it, and be totally nerdy about it. And no one bugs me. Well, not tooo much, at least.

This year I’m off to a slow start, as I ready for a trip to see the grandson, and try to leave the house in decent order for my sister, who’s dog/cat/house-sitting. Given that I would rather do almost anything than clean house, there was a lot of catch-up…

People often ask me why I love poetry, as if it was some kind of slightly perverse affliction. Usually I shrug & say ‘Why not?’ But since I’m among friends, I’ll confess: poetry has saved my life. More than once. And I mean that in the sincerest of ways.

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When I have been as immured in the darkest of self-imposed prisons, when my life has seemed worthless & not worth continuing, some poet has always been there to lead me back to light. A lyric of a song — not only the music, but the words like a message; a mantra of a phrase; even the half-remembered lines from a dense graduate class… These have been signposts and maps and stars. I owe poets more than I can say. That’s why poetry.

I toyed with the idea of giving you some of my own poems, but decided instead to link to the amazing poetry of others. Some famous, others not-so. I’m beginning with a poet who is pretty well-known in schools, but never has achieved the popular appeal I’d like for him to know. Poet Robert Hayden, the first African American to be appointed as ‘consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress‘ — now known as the US Poet Laureate position — is one of my very favourite poets. I have a kind of fangirl/author crush on him. His poetry is both accessible and rewarding of deeper study. He seems a great poet to begin with.

Here’s his famous poem Those Winter Sundays. Enjoy!

Sundays too my father got up early 
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold, 
then with cracked hands that ached 
from labor in the weekday weather made 
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him. 

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking. 
When the rooms were warm, he’d call, 
and slowly I would rise and dress, 
fearing the chronic angers of that house, 

Speaking indifferently to him, 
who had driven out the cold 
and polished my good shoes as well. 
What did I know, what did I know 
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

 

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