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!

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.