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

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Football and the Sunday Blues

A bleak Sunday morning, the very definition of gray.  Leafless trees twisting in the ferocious winds.  Random scraps spinning from yard to yard (a paper plate, a torn envelope).  Cold.

If I lived near the ocean, I would bundle up and take a walk on the boardwalk or along the water’s edge.  If I lived in the city, I would wrap myself in appropriate gear and wander.  Alas, sigh, I live somewhere in between.

So…as the wind slaps this little rental house and I debate whether or not to raise the thermostat (I suppose I can just do my worrying when the heating bill actually arrives), I feel the all-too-familiar Sunday Blues begin to set in like a fever.  What is it about Sunday?  Is it really just the thought of going to work tomorrow that puts me in a slump?  Anxiety of a full workweek ahead?  I don’t get it.  I don’t feel this way when I have a Monday off, or a Tuesday, or Wednesday, for that matter.  And isn’t Sunday supposed to be a marvelous day?  Filled with big breakfasts, the New York Times, phone calls to friends and family, trips to the park.  

Football.  The only antidote to my Sunday Blues that seems to work.  I’ll admit, I only discovered the game about six years ago, when I wanted to beef up my lunch conversations with a huge male partner population at the accounting firm where I was working.  Prior to that, I dismissed football, and most other professional sports, as mindless time-wasters.  An excuse for a bunch of guys to get together and eat greasy food.  Snobbery on my part?  Perhaps.  More like pure ignorance.  Forgive me, for I knew not the truth. 

Little did I know that football is a game of intelligence, strategy, and suspense.  This is not a game of a bunch of neanderthals tossing a pigskin back and forth to one another.  NO.  This is a chess match, a tournament of minds and athleticism.  Each team masterminds every one of their plays to try to trick the opponent while demonstrating their own brawn, grace, and skill.  This is a palm-sweating, nail-biting three hours of televised bliss that is truly not over until it is over.  Three seconds on the clock?  No matter.  The losing team still has time to win.  

I am an addict.  From August to Super Bowl, and even the year between as I read for any football news, I am hooked.  But it’s more than just a game to me.  Football has cured me of the Sunday Blues (well mostly, anyway).  Even on this dreary, bone-chilling morning, as I daydream of living elsewhere and reflect on my long “To-Do” list of lesson plans, bills, laundry, ironing, writing, reading, cleaning, grading, etc. etc. etc. blahblahblah, I thrill at the knowledge that I will be watching football games for most of the day and evening.  No more guilt over lying my Sunday away on the couch with the remote control; I have an excuse now, I’m a football junkie.  No more pressure to conquer my list of chores without injecting any pleasure.  Since I’m quite a proficient multitasker, I can watch the games AND write out my bills, grade papers, put in a load of wash, iron, even read a little bit and check my Facebook page during Half-Time.  Now that’s what I call a Sunday.

Life is good.  Thank you, Football.