Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

Day 2, National Poetry Month ~

Today’s poem is one of my favourites. It also changes American poetry (arguably). It’s Ezra Pound, of course — that contentious, controversial poet who went loudly nuts during WWII.

But this is the quieter, Asian art-influenced Pound. The poet who read haiku in Japan, all of Ernest Fenollosa’s work on the Chinese ideogram, and eventually translated Chinese. Although he spoke none…

No where but in the arts can I imagine that story being real: a young American meets an artist, read his work, uses it to change the course of his own work, and ultimately brings an entire body of work into his own culture… Wow.

Here it is, balm for subway riders:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

National Poetry Month!

On my Facebook page, I’m publishing my own poems daily — one by one, each written or revised or at least revisited for this month I love.

But here, I’m going to link daily to a poem important to me. Or maybe just one of the many I adore. Each day I’ll give you a poem to think about. I may post something with it, but mostly I want you to have poetry. Because every beginner’s heart needs it. Like water. Like air. Like love.

Here’s Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate, to kick us off:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

green grass, blue sky, sun like honey ~

Spring is about growth. It’s full of religious celebrations that predate paper: Passover, Easter, Holi, the Spring Equinox, Makha Bukha, Bahá’í New Year, and many more.

For me, spring is also about children. It’s about egg hunts — a leftover from BCE (Before Christian Era) — and candy in baskets and new clothes. As a child, it also was about the dyed chicks & ducklings & bunnies that cuddled at feed stores & even dime store fronts, ready to grace a child’s basket Sunday morning.

We don’t do Easter baskets any more — my sons live thousands of miles west, and my grand-nieces & grand-nephew are busy at their besotted aunt’s. But today, when I came in to my desk to write, a totally romantic Easter cup awaited me. Brimming with the neon green ‘grass’ we all remember, in which nestled dark chocolate eggs & a hand-painted Canadian coin, complete with bee. I have the BEST husband… :)

For a brief moment, I was 6 years old. My Aunt Carol had bought me a chocolate egg, and my Aunt Joyce had taken me to see coloured ducklings. I had a new dress, shiny patent shoes, and a pastel basket. Warm spring sunlight was no brighter than my bliss.

I hope today brings you similar sweet surprises, and the love of those around you. And the happy faces of children under budding trees, standing beneath bright blue sky. It’s spring.

 

talking about books: a tale of hope ~

I spent an evening earlier this week with more than 30 women, in a lock-down facility, talking about the dancer Isadora Duncan. Part of an Oklahoma Humanities Council book group initiative, partners are provided with books and a list of ‘scholars’ who can lead the discussion.

The women were a joy to visit. Smart, reflective, intuitive, & insightful. I’ve been in grad seminars w/ less lively & nuanced conversation. The 30+ women had read a difficult book, one rife with heavy vocabulary, thick with untranslated French, German, & Spanish, and not always towing a narrative line. A few freely admitted they hadn’t finished it, and a couple of even braver souls said they hadn’t gotten past the first pages.

Note: I’m used to books like this, and it took me forever to get into what became, finally, an engrossing tale of dance, love, and the sacrifices one woman made for her famous success.

These women had worked all day on ‘programs’: addiction counseling; family therapy; meeting with lawyers and social workers regarding child custody, divorce, & other family difficulties. And more: finding places to work, learning how to apply for these jobs, finding childcare… The list is long & exhausting.

After 10 hours of a day like that, they came to a presentation on a book many of my happily indulged college students would find not worth picking up (truth, this). But a very young woman in the third row, wearing the leg cuff of a newcomer to the program, was mesmerised. Her hand shot up like an A+ student whenever I asked a question.  And a grandmother of 8 in the back row told me she couldn’t wait to actually read the book — the conversation had hooked her.

When it was time to move into small discussion groups? They refused, nicely. They wanted to go on just talking about the book together, hearing what each had to say. A German immigrant, still clipping her consonants and velveting her vowels, warned us — after I said the French was sometimes untranslateable — that the German in the book made no sense. We talked about that.

A woman in the front row, after 18 months almost ready for release, wanted to know how we thought Isadora Duncan got through the death of three children. We talked about that. I gave the group background on the differences between memoir & autobiography — both genre differences and the earlier academic gendered readings — and we talked about that.

What I saw, for the two-plus hours I spent in lock-down, was what literature and the arts are best at: dissolving differences. Blurring boundaries. Women from their early 20s to their late 50s turned in their chairs and talked about literature. About the theme of a book, of a life. About art & its importance. About a woman born more than 100 years ago who faced tragedy.

And what I will remember is this: the room was full of empathy for that long-dead woman. And grace. The room of 30+ convicted addicts was full of humour, wit, intelligence, & grace. It was a wonderful evening.

 

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