Although I’ve always loved poetry, for most of my adult life prose dominated my reading and writing. It was difficult to find the mental and emotional space to let poetry in. Once I retired from full-time work, I made it a point to revisit poetry and explore it as a reader and a writer.
We poets are at all levels, from awesomely accomplished to beginner. I am somewhere in the middle.
I must have been sending out messages to the universe, because a friend connected me with one of her poet friends, which led me to the Cupertino (California) Poetry Circle. The city has a wonderful poetic arts program and a poet laureate who gives workshops. Our group meets monthly to read poems, ours and others. We poets are at all levels, from awesomely accomplished to beginner. I am somewhere in the middle.
Poetry is allowing me to turn off the inner critic (for a while, anyway) and let creativity flow from my right brain. I can use language outside the realm of what’s permitted in technical and scientific writing. Perhaps most important, poetry offers me a respite from the small worries (too many bills this month) to the existential angst (will we destroy the planet?). As an English major, I love Shakespeare, Blake, Yeats, and a host of others, but recently I’ve begun to read and appreciate more contemporary voices, such as Jane Kenyon, Donald Hall, and Wendell Berry. I tend to be a worrier, and to defuse that emotion, the following is my favorite go-to poem:
The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Currently I am refining two poems to submit to a local anthology to stick my toe in the water of poetry publishing. They are too long to include here, but I do have an older one that’s actually a set of Haikus. Enjoy.
At Grinding Rock State Park
Ghosts of the Miwok—
Grinding rock yields acorn meal;
From black oak, the prize
Dearer than the blackberries,
Once rinsed to sweetness.
Sugar pines against the sky.
Woven from willow,
In that world without a wheel,
Baskets held water.
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.
Good thoughts, sources, and work, Marian. I, too, despite my wandering writing’s various platforms — from curriculum to screen plays, from novels to essays — haven’t felt able to dig as deeply into poetry as I might like.
I was especially taken by your notion that poetry, like music and painting, gives us word meisters respite from the toil of linear thinking. Happy to see Wendell Berry in your faves. Here’s one of my Wendell Berry faves that you probably already know.
Thanks, Charles, I wasn’t familiar with that poem, so it was great to read it. It reminds me in structure of his “How to be a Poet.”
Marian, how wonderful that you are in a poetry circle! So this was a great prompt for you, but you never even mentioned it. You should add to your story the cute little poem you made up on Thursday, “From sonnet to sestina…”
Marian, thank you for sharing the poem by Wendall Barry, which I liked very much. Your set of Haikus evoked beautiful pictures in my mine. I admire your bravery and trying something new by joining a poetry circle. I’m in the process of organizing a writers group at my synagogue and, if I get up the courage, may try writing a poem. You have inspired me.
Thank you, Laurie. I was really intimidated my first few times at the poetry circle but I got used to it and welcome the feedback. Sharing was harder than writing at first!
I love this Marian. I love that poetry can take you out of yourself and help take you to an entirely different place of relaxation and meditation. The first poem by Wendell Berry is gorgeous with its natural imagery.
Your haiku is a little more obscure for me. I think I understand it, but with the spare words and imagery, I grapple with it. Nevertheless, it is your work and I applaud you for putting it out there with the meaning it has for you.
Most of my poems are not as spare as the Haiku. However, in the poetry circle we are encouraged to practice some minimal forms (ever heard of a cinquain?) so that we develop discipline in creating a message economically, with just the right words.
When I decided I wanted to venture from technical into creative writing, poetry, being manageable in a single session, was the first genre I attempted. I found it challenging to turn down my left brain and activate the right, which resulted in mixed results. (My first poem, back in 1993, was so instructional that I subtitled it “A Technical Writer Tries Poetry!”) So I admire your Miwok poem, whose sense impressions masterfully recreate their world as you imagine it. Care to share any secrets?
BTW, Jennifer Swanton Brown, who has shared numerous stories (and some poetry) on this site, was Cupertino’s second poet laureate (2013-15). She probably set up some of the programs you participate in.
Finally, I love that Wendell Berry poem. It seems especially relevant these days, don’t you think?
Thanks for your kind comments, John. I completely get your struggles re-orienting your brain, and it’s tricky. Don’t give up, though. You never know when a poem will spring from your mind. Sometimes as I toss and turn in the early morning I get poetry ideas, while my editing brain isn’t engaged, and then I have to quickly write them down! Great to know about Jennifer. Ann Muto, who was Cupertino poet laureate from 2015-17, is in the poetry circle and is a great inspiration. Yes, I think of that Wendell Berry poem often these days.