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?

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!