03 April 2007

Poetry as Influence

Since it's National Poetry Month, a few articles have surfaced on poetry on some of the newspaper sites. Today there is an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "Recapturing Wonder Through The Pleasures of Poetry", where the author exhorts us to read poetry for various reasons - "But as the poet Edward Hirsch has reminded us, reading true poetry "is an adventure in renewal, a creative act, a perpetual beginning, a rebirth of wonder." "

Many of these articles seem to come down to the same theme. Why read/make/bother with poetry? Pose the same question about music, and things get hostile. I'd like to blame some of the 'why poetry?' sentiment on the rampant anti-intellectualism in our schools. Being forced to deconstruct poems and examine them for 'meaning' has done more harm to poetry than any thing else I can think of. I was lucky enough to have a high school English teacher who had us read Shakespeare, Frost, Wordsworth and Ginsberg for the sheer joy of it, for the fun of the language and rhythms. For some of us it started a life long love affair with words, and the possibilities of what words could become.

Here is a poem by Robert Penn Warren, that I read long ago. It wasn't a poem recommended by a teacher, but one I discovered in my poetry travels that had a great influence on my desire to read, write, and absorb poetry. The right poem, at the right time, will do that.

Trying to Tell You Something
Robert Penn Warren

All things lean at you, and some are
Trying to tell you something, though of some

The heart is too full for speech. On a hill, the oak,
Immense, older than Jamestown or God, splitting

With its own weight at the great inverted
Crotch, air-spread and ice-hung, ringed with iron

Like barrel-hoops, only heavier, massive rods
Running through and bolted, and higher, the cables,

Which in summer are hidden by green leaves—the oak,
It is trying to tell you something. It wants,

In its fullness of years, to describe to you
What happens on a December night when

It stands alone in a world of whiteness. The moon is full.
You can hear the stars crackle in their high brightness.

It is ten below zero, and the iron
Of hoops and reinforcement rods is continuing to contract.

There is the rhythm of a slow throb, like pain. The wind,
Northwest, is steady, and in the wind, the cables,

In a thin-honed and disinfectant purity, like
A dentist’s drill, sing. They sing

Of truth, and its beauty. The oak
Wants to declare this to you, so that you

Will not be unprepared when, some December night,
You stand on a hill, in a world of whiteness, and

Stare into the crackling absoluteness of the sky. The oak
Wants to tell you because, at that moment,

In your own head, the cables will sing
With a thin-honed and disinfectant purity,

And no one can predict the consequences


Gabriele Campbell said...

School never managed to kill my love for poetry. That would have required me to take the teachers serious, and I seldom did, lol.

Though I admit, I have yet to explore the world of English poetry, I'm better acquainted with German poems.

I seldom feel like writing poetry myself, though, don't know why.

Constance Brewer said...

I just got a book on women poets of the world - translations, but it's very interesting to read, stylewise.

Poetry really isn't appreciated over here. Not sure if its that way in other countries.

Gabriele Campbell said...

It's pretty popular here. Every student magazine has a poetry corner, and books like Marcel Reich Ranicki's Anthology of Famous Poems (with comments) sells like hot cakes, all 20 volumes of it. :)