On Poetry, by Hilary Sherratt

It’s National Poetry Month, and I’ve been setting out to discover why we read and write poetry. Today, I’ve asked Hilary Sherratt to answer the question “why poetry?”

I first met Hilary by way of an email forwarded to me by her fiancé, Preston Yancey. “Read this poem,” it said. That was it. I read. I was hooked.

Hilary has a rare way with words. She has poems that make you say “whoa.” (So after her opening line, make sure you snigger extra loud.) After you read her piece, make sure you drop by her place.

*****

I’m not a poet, I’m the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I’m not a poet, I’m wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I’m not a poet, I’m a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I’m not a poet, I’m a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.

I don’t write poetry because I’m a poet.

There’d be no point to the words, then, they’d be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I’d say, “I’m a poet” and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I’d say, “I’m a poet” because I’d want you to think I’m a good writer and the title will tell you everything.

I’m not a poet.

I write because the words claw at my insides and there is nothing gentle or lamblike about the way they’re born. I write poetry because words are violent against ribcages and there isn’t a muscle in my body that can keep them. I write because the words are the tide’s relentless turning, and on the days when I do not know where I begin or end I do know that when I hear something beautiful it should be written.

I’m not a poet, because if I tell you I’m a poet I’m not telling you why I write poetry. I’m just telling you that I wish you’d think me a poet.

I write it because the words must be. Because out of nothing we might spin the beautiful.

And because I hear the word midwinter and all I think is:

The lake is still, undisturbed
as it must be, the justice
of such faithful movement all summer – to hold only itself.
And now my request.
My hands blush in asking
that it might carry me, too,
I glare skyward.
Is there anything to a body but gravity,
the heaving pull of the heart?
Is there anything to my hands but
a prayer I only half believe?
It is midwinter.
Must the world still carry me?

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Psalm #19 (Spring Stones)

Last night I had a brief exchange with a friend, a good woman who speaks timely words. We were discussing the status of public discourse, especially in concern to matters of faith. I said that I was growing weary of the endless battle royale, the endless war of words that has taken to the hallowed halls of the internetShe replied with a simple statement: this week I’m reminded that God (and the church) are bigger than the internet.

Wiser, more nuanced words haven’t been spoken to me in some time.

Last night I considered us, this grand swath of humanity. We are more than digital arguments, avatars, and coded bits and blips, no matter how much we might wish otherwise.

*****

Psalm #19 (Spring Stones)

I.
In the turning over of spring’s stones
I see the unfurled woodlouse, unafraid,
the lichen that lives best undisturbed,
and the soil that is the medium
of our genesis.

From dust I came
and dust will be my home.

II.
There was once a Great Awakening
that started with clay and God,
and it knew nothing of
one thousand pixel bosoms,
or men whom, in their pyromaniacal fits
burned every expendable,
sexable good down
to its consumable, silicone dust.

We were created clay paupers,
at once began collecting orgasmic baubles.

III.
If there were a man who could be all
to everyone, he would not be a man
but a god. These are the days
of the every-god,
god the terrible, god the kind,
god the electronic omnipresent,
god the straight, god the gay,
the ever opinionated, sometimes quiet
unjust semi-sovereign.

These are the days when men turn over
stones in spring and see only dirt, forgetting
that the soil is our cousin.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Good Links (National Poetry Month Edition)

Last night, the black, gray, and white clouds swirled on top of each other while the radio screeched the National Weather Center warning. “This is not a test,” it said before indicating that a Tornado watch was in effect. I pulled into the drive, where Amber and the boys were standing, watching the clouds roll against each other like ocean waves. Titus pointed to the sky, “pormado, Dadda,” he said. I told him it’d be okay, that we were protected by a sturdy Ozark ridge (as if he understood the interaction of meteorology and geology). He smiled, pointed again, and said “pormado, pormado, pormado.”

Some words are just fun to say, I reckon. Titus is learning that. (And worry not; the fact that you are reading this is an indication that my home was not swept away to Oz.)

Speaking of fun words, I’ve been digging into a few this week. Check out this week’s list of good links.

VIDEO

Breaking convention, I’m leading with a video segment from Jimmy Kimmel’s interview of Bill Clinton. In it, the forty-second president speaks of alien visitation: “I just hope, that it’s not like Independence Day, the movie,” he says.

LINKS

Did you know it’s National Poetry Month? The good folks at Tweetspeak Poetry have a Poetry Dare for you. Pick a poet and read his or her work every day through the month of April. Lyla Lindquist is reading Polish poet Wisława Szymborska. Check out her piece and take her up on the Poetry Dare. If you could pick one poet to read this month, who would it be? (I’m reading John Ciardi.)

Speaking of picking a poet, last night, I picked a few Facebook poets and followed links to their words. I ran across James Scott Smith’s poem “Weaver’s Prayer.” He writes, in part:

…we, cloak ourselves in the
love of one day’s worth of revelation, of a simple
reckoning with faith, enough to warm our faces in the
dawn and thank the One that fires up the rising sun for this
wondrous and mysterious consciousness of being in the world.

Visit his place, By Way of the Dog, for the rest of the poem. It’s a good one.

Yesterday, Hilary Sherratt writes on the connection between writing good poetry and voracious reading. By reading poetry, Hilary learned to read the world, learned to see the poetry all around her. She writes:

It is this way with the man who shovels snow too early in the morning to talk back to the silent trees. It is this way with the woman I see making her way nervously, heels-clicking, down the sidewalk towards the post office on Saturday, the way it is with the bird chatter or the dog and his patient tail thumping the song of our mornings.

Hilary’s piece is one of my favorite of the week. Make sure you check it out.

MUSIC

Over the last year or so, I’ve collected some of my favorite poetic songs in one extraordinary playlist (if I might say so myself). Enjoy.

Happy National Poetry Month! I hope you take the opportunity to delve deep into verse!

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

On the Reason for Poetry (And the Analog Resistance)

April is National Poetry month. (Did you know there was such a thing?) To celebrate, I’ve asked some friends to join me in answering the question, “Why Poetry?” (Next week’s piece, for instance, will be by the lovely and talented Hilary Sherratt). I hope you’ll join us in the conversation. And if you say you aren’t the “poetry type?” Give it a go this month. See how it feels.

*****

Aunt Mary died of eating twelve red peppers
after a hard days work. The doctor said
it was her high blood pressure finished her.

~John Ciardi

1.

I sat in the rustic pew on my front porch, a copy of Selected Poems:John Ciardi cracked to the poem “Aunt Mary.” The pew was a reclaimed piece, salvaged by my mother from some going-out-of-church sale in northern Louisiana. I’d salvaged the verses from a local used bookstore in the Ozarks, reclaimed the piece and gave it a home between the works of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry.

It was a quiet evening, one in which the first warm winds of April were sweeping down the lane. The birds hopped from branch to branch, the joy of Spring in their songs. Squirrels chased each other through the muddy front yard, through the tender grass shooting from winter’s dead zones. I pinched the pages between thumb and forefinger; there is nothing quite like the yellowing leaves of a good book of poetry, the rough-fibered, tactile, analog pages.

It could have been any poem, really. But it wasn’t. It was this work, “Aunt Mary,” about the writer’s aunt who’d passed into the next world on the flames of twelve red peppers. Mary was a woman who “loved us till we screamed,” who was in the family of the broken,

“in which one dies of twelve red peppers,
one has too many children, one a boy friend,
two are out of work, and one is yowling
for one (offstage) to open the bathroom door.”

There is a truth about family in the verse. I sense it, but it hides beneath the surface.

2.

It is April the 1st, and the dust has barely settled on last week’s discussion regarding whether same-sex couples should or should not be employed by World Vision, a entity which, as best as I can tell, has a singular non-profit purposes–care for the impoverished. Just days ago, this was the issue du jour. World Vision’s hiring policies were in question, and the debate took to the hallowed halls of the internet. We all gathered there, there, the family, some of us watching as others debated with humility, and still others–the championed prize-fighters in the room–slung wholesale accusations across the aisle. One side accused the other of being Un-orthodox (a idea without definition), and their equal opposites accused the more Orthodox of being unloving (an ideal without definition).

Nuance be damned.

I watched as one sat yowling for another (offstage) to open the bathroom door. The one behind the door yowled back.

3.

Why poetry? (And for today, let’s relegate this question to “why read poetry?”) This is the grand question.

Many have an affinity for poetry, though they’d likely not recognize it as such. In high school, did you roll the windows down, let the wind blow through your hair as you screamed every word to “Smells Like Teen Spirit?” Did you make mix-tapes for your boyfriend? Did you scrawl self-angsty lines in a fifty cent notebook? Perhaps you didn’t, but I did (though you may substitute “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” for “The Love of God,” because I was a good Baptist boy).

In poetry, I’ve always found the artistic medium that gives the freedom to better understand the world. Good poetry conveys layers of meaning and nuance, unpacks truths in surprising and understated ways. Good poetry is like a diamond, its many facets drawing the reader into the mystery at its heart. It entices me, makes me dig into its language for meaning.

I am a word-miner, and poetry is the mineshaft. It’s why I read. I hope to find the grand golden nugget one day. I know it’s there somewhere.

4.

On April the 1st, I sat with the lines of John Ciardi, he mourning the loss of his utterly human aunt. I rubbed the pages between my fingers as I read the closing lines,

…At once I wept Aunt Mary
with a real tear, forgiving all her love,
and its stupidities, in the palm of God.
Or on a ledge of time. Or in the eye
of the blasting sun. Or tightroped on a theorem.
–Let every man choose his own persuasion,
I pray the tear she taught me of us all.

I wept Aunt Mary too, and all the very real lovers of this world and of God who are only doing the best they know how, who are only espousing their best understandings of mysteries.

There was no comment section at the bottom of the poem, no way to tweet the verse to the rest of God’s green earth, or to spout an opinion about it. There was only me, the poem, the internal weeping, the birds, the squirrels, and the pew. There was only a prayer for all of us, the yowling children. There was only the understanding that we’re all here together, reflections in this mirror dimly. There was the sense that unfolding the nuance of words can only be achieved by this sort of Analog Resistance.

This is why I read poetry. It is a sanctuary from the myriad cacophonous violences that occupy this mainframe world.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

On Broken Pastors and Golden Calves

1.

I’ve always been a question pusher, an inquisitor of sorts.

I was blazing a trail through the frozen Ozarks on an average weekday—the Boston Mountains rising like guardians over landscape as frozen as a faithless heart—when my phone range. It was a friend from my ministry days, a mid-western pastor who’d once confessed he was wrestling with the most un-nuanced question of faith—is God real? He’d spilled it across the bench seat of the beat up Chevy lumbering down the dirt roads near Indian territory, said he’d have an easier time counting summer stars in the panhandle of Oklahoma than imagining a real and present God. This confession came in his earlier days of ministry, before he’d acceded to the office of “Associate Pastor” and dug deep into a mid-western suburban life, before he’d started a family on a churchman’s salary.

I considered his confession—that truth spoken nearly six years prior—and cut to the quick of the matter. “How’s your faith these days?” I asked.

“It’s good, bro; how’s yours?” he quipped, flipped the question on the inquisitor with an evangelical sleight of hand.

“Do you remember the night we were rolling in the old pickup on the back roads? You told me you were groping about for God, that you were considering jumping…” Continue reading at A Deeper Story.

*Photo by Sigfrid Lundberg, Creative Commons via Twitter.

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

© Copyright - Seth Haines