To New Paltz ~ A Poem

I wrote this poem a few years ago, and now it has found its way into this month’s issue of the Hudson Valley magazine Chronogram.  Even now as I read it for the hundredth time, I find several things I would like to tweak, which proves, I suppose, that poems are somehow living, organic beings.  Alas, here it is in Chronogram, so take a peek:

To New Paltz

And, by the way, if you enjoy the combination of nature, wineries, craft beer, mountains, water, bookshops, quiet, music, festivals, farming, hiking trails, artisans and galleries, you might just want to spend a day or two or three exploring the Hudson Valley region of New York. Spots like New Paltz and Woodstock have nestled into my heart, and they might just offer you something too.

Explore the Hudson Valley

hudson_river_valley

Adios, Winter! Hello, Spring! Life! Poetry!

Spring has finally sprung here along the shore of New Jersey, a state that probably brings to mind visions of smokestacks, smog, and spray tans for most people. I suppose I used to think the same thing of Jersey, growing up and living half my life in New York, but on a beautiful day like this….Well, there truly is no place like home.

Seagulls swoosh away the daunting, black crows that have been perching in the trees outside of my apartment all winter. Warm 70 degrees tap excitedly on my windows to be welcomed back inside through the screens. Last summer’s flowerpots and planters beg for some love and attention from my balcony. And I leap into the celebration, heart, soul, and each four limbs, bidding a swift adieu to Winter and each of her harsh, cruel lashes.

On to Spring! Life! Poetry! Wait…poetry?

Ah, yes. Just as the tulips and crocuses begin to poke through the earth, and chocolate bunnies and matzoh fill hungry grocery store shelves, Poetry Month makes her appearance, one that I have come to relish each April.

Yesterday, I attended a Writers Conference at William Paterson University, where American journalist, critic, and author (and New York Times obituary writer) Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, as well as four other writers/editors (including poet Christopher Salerno), spoke of revision. More thrilling for me, though, was when poet Timothy Liu (whom I discovered at the same conference last spring and have read avidly ever since) plopped down in the seat right in front of me. Goosebumps! Electricity! During a break, like some trembling teenager approaching a rock star, I croaked out through a huge, toothy smile (and crimson cheeks, of course), “Excuusee meee, would you mind signing?” and held out his collection Say Goodnight. Liu signed eagerly, chatting with me briefly before heading toward the buffet. No one else seemed to notice a great poet among them on line, but I smiled all the way home, new treasure in tow…..

Only to find a surprise package in my mailbox, another unexpected treasure, cloaked in a padded envelope from Georgia: a signed copy of Book of Hours by poet Kevin Young. A special gift from a lovely someone, meant to console me as I grieve and try to make sense of a loved one’s suicide, though she is also suffering heartbreak of her own. A simple act of loving generosity. Poetry in motion.  

Spring. Life. Poetry. Indeed. Here in my humble second-floor perch in the Garden State, I sing out a loud, boisterous “Welcome!” to each.

Image 

Christopher Salerno, Timothy Liu (Writers Conference – William Paterson University)

Image

A Poem: MORNING WALK

A Poem: MORNING WALK

Walking among the detritus—
a feather and rusty screw
a red leaf torn away from its roots—
I let the sea wash over my shoes
and hum a song to you
on the hard nights
you’re the ace right
.
These waves could swallow your mountains,
the surfers stand no chance,
even the boats simply rock and dance,
we’re all just mixed-up pebbles
tossed up on the sand,
waiting for a hand
to choose and rinse us off
like these tiny orange shells,
mini saucers made of carnival glass,
which I would gladly carry to you
on a carousel horse
made of water and foam
just to place them in your palm
or the crook of your door
wiping clean the miles
between those hills
and this November shore.

(italicized lyric is from “Tiderays” by Volcano Choir)

006

 

 

Poetry

It’s a rainy Monday morning.  I went to bed feeling disjointed, out of sorts, fighting something.  I woke up feeling worse and called out of work.  I should be teaching a classroom full of freshmen right now, but am sitting here trying to plan my upcoming Poetry unit instead.

Poetry.  Maya Angelou wrote on her web page recently that “I had a very interesting, sometimes difficult, childhood. Poetry became my friend, my buddy, I loved it so. It seemed to have been written just for me.”  Her words move me.  I can relate.  I’ve recently begun to explore my own childhood a bit more deeply, and am coming to terms with its harshness, the dark realities that fit more easily in a drawer or under the rug.  Whether in the form of music or words on the page, poetry was my friend, my buddy too.  And, oh, how I still love it so.

As a shy little girl, I relished quiet moments curled up with a book and soon discovered the pleasure of shaping my own thoughts and observations into poems.  Words provided me escape, shelter, peace. 

I remember groaning along with my classmates in one high school English class, in particular, when the teacher began to lecture on the importance of symbolism within poetry.  Who cares what the red wheelbarrow symbolizes, I remember thinking.   Look how beautiful and delicate it appears on the page.  Hear how profoundly simple it sounds.   Perfection.

Once in college and graduate school, I continued to tune out the “science” of poetry to gravitate toward the poems that spoke to me, sung to me, got me.  Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Audre Lorde.  I didn’t care about a poem’s meter or alliteration or rhyme structure, as long as it had the audacity to shake me, pull me, punch me in the gut.  Not the most scholarly approach for an English major, I’ll admit, but why mess with soul.  

Poetry, like music, has remained a loyal friend to me.  When everything else seems loud, overwhelming, and complicated, poetry breaks it down.  Simplifies and quiets things.  Poetry sucks me into life, one detail at a time.  Joe’s jacket.  An orange bed.  A painting by de Kooning.  Small hands.  Kitchen glasses of brandy.  A Paris sky.  A monster in the shape of a woman.  Love, death, and the changing of the seasons.

I often think of an evening years ago, when I went to a poetry reading by Allen Ginsberg at the bookstore Rizzoli in Soho.  Crammed in between overstuffed bookshelves and worshippers like myself, I listened to his every word, peeling and dissecting each one for treasure.  After the reading, I inched along the crowded line to have him sign a book of his poems.  Bearded, balding, and a bit frailer than I’d imagined, Mr. Ginsberg stared at me intently as I nervously handed him the book to sign.   “Beth,” I whispered to him. “Can you sign it to Beth?”  He gave me a little smile, explaining he did not sign books to specific names but that he would give me his favorite word instead: Ah.  I accepted it gladly.  I guess that’s what poetry is after all, isn’t it.  Moments.  Connections.  Truths.

Maya Angelou closed her comments on poetry with,  “I think that is what art is supposed to do. Help us to save our lives and to grow.”  And that is what I will teach my students.  Poetry is not just about rhythm or meter or symbolism, no.  Poetry is music, ecstasy, rage, heart, guts.  A lifeline.  A voice.  The truth of poetry lies within the reason the poet had no choice but to write a particular poem in the first place.  Breathe or choke.  Live or die.  The stuff worth learning. 

My Essential Poets

1. Frank O’Hara

2. Adrienne Rich

3. Marilyn Hacker

4. Langston Hughes

5. Maya Angelou