Poetry or Not (preferably not!)


“Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes.”

[Joseph Roux]

Yeats 14-A Coat

During April I’ve been participating in National Poetry Month. Participating how, you may wonder; it’s a far stretch from novel writing. Well, I admit I didn’t write a single poem during the month. The initial challenge at Tweetspeak Poetry was to pick a poet and study his or her work, reading a poem each day.

I’m not sure why I chose William Butler Yeats‘ poetry. Much of it is gloomy, focused on aging, lost love and politics, and yet Yeats (1865-1939) is “widely considered to be one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century.” He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923. The Poetry Foundation says he “was interested in occultism and spiritualism. He had been a theosophist, but in 1890 he turned from its sweeping mystical insights and joined the Golden Dawn, a secret society that practiced ritual magic… he became convinced that the mind was capable of perceiving past the limits of materialistic rationalism.

For all of that — or perhaps because of that — Yeats’ poetry is fascinating to me, not so much for what he says, but for how he says it. He is very strict in his adherence to the traditional verse forms of his time and the words bring a kind of verbal magic to the page.

Dennis Gabor (1900-1979) once said, “Poetry is plucking at the heartstrings, and making music with them.” (Gabor was also a recipient of the Nobel Prize, but in physics.)

At the end of each day this month (with the exception of a few missed ones at Easter), I chose a Yeats’ excerpt that spoke to me, despite often being out of context. I added it to one of my original photographs, and posted it on Facebook and Flickr, just to prove to my fellow poetic sojourners that I’d done my daily reading.

The earlier graphic is from April 14th. This is yesterday’s…

Yeats 27 - Innisfree Peace

If you’d like to see the entire month’s collection, you’ll find it here.

So, when April has ended what will have been the point of this exercise? I want — no, I yearn — to prove the truth of L.Willingham Lindquist‘s observation at Tweetspeak Poetry:

We’ve noticed something about people who read poetry every day: they write better, whether it’s poetry or prose. Maybe it comes from exposure to well-crafted lines. A little like osmosis, so to speak. Or maybe a corollary to what your mother always told you about the kind of friends you keep. I like to think it also comes from what the words do once they get inside you. Those well-crafted lines have a way of opening passages into our souls. They gently (and sometimes not so gently) push us to look at things differently.”

There is something to be gleaned from reading in genres other than one’s favourite. I don’t consider myself a poet. Except for rare occasions, I don’t write poetry and seldom read it. Oh, years ago I introduced my Grade One and Two students to it with fun verses by Ogden Nash, but who takes that kind of poetry seriously? (May the ghosts of his ancestors not descend upon me in wrath!) No, I prefer good ol’ fiction… a traditional mystery, perhaps historical fiction or something inspirational. But if reading poetry can make me a better writer, who am I to pass up an opportunity for improvement?

This month has also been about enrichment and self-discipline, and can’t we always use a good dose of both?

How do you feel about poetry? Have you marked National Poetry Month in any special way?

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National Poetry Month, a Novel, and Now

Throughout the month of March many of us took part in a literary version of March Madness, daily working our way toward an assortment of writing-related goals. Now April has arrived, bringing with it National Poetry Month, and a new daily challenge — reading a poem a day.

Sunny Tree

The challenge was dished out to me by Sandra Heska King and her allies at TweekspeakPoetry.com. Who can deny having time to read just one poem each day? I already read a portion of scripture and the poetry of the Psalms. How hard could it be to fit in a few more verses? Of course, one could jump in with more of a commitment and write a poem a day, but that would stretch my poetry moments into poetry hours, and end up overshadowing the other writing I want to do. I know my limits.

Each day I spend a chunk of time working on the new novel I began last month, but my tortoise-like progress reminds me of how easy it is to let other activities obscure that priority. I have writer friends who hold down full-time jobs, homeschool their children, and still cope with the deadlines of multiple book contracts. I’m always in awe of Ruth Logan Herne who daycares a houseful of children, prepares material for and monitors two daily group blogs (in addition to her own website), has chickens, and dogs, and goodness knows what else, but is consistently up and writing by 5:00 a.m. every morning, getting her couple hours in before the rest of her household awakens and her ‘other’ workday begins. My days are mostly empty, but I get much less done. It’s all about priorities, having goals, and not letting them become lost behind other attention-grabbing pursuits. Oh, and knowing how to juggle a bit doesn’t hurt.

I watched a video yesterday and one statement in it really hit me: “It is always now.” Yesterday is an unchangeable memory. We may wait for tomorrow, hoping for our situation to get better, easier, or improve in some other way, but each moment we live is our NOW. We will never get this moment back to do over. What we want to accomplish tomorrow will only happen if we work towards it today… beginning right now.

Do you have any desires or goals that are being eclipsed by other things? What are you doing to try and achieve them?

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