April Is National Poetry Month

My friend and writing colleague Ilana de Bare has posted a terrific piece on her blog, Midlife Bat Mitzvah, about Adrienne Rich, who died on Tuesday.   Like, I suspect, a lot of women, I heard about Rich before I ever read her poems.  And when I did, I was in grad school taking a seminar on the poetics of desire.  I must admit, I remember Rich’s name on the syllabus more than I recall her actual poetry.  That distinction goes to images from W. H. Auden (on giving head to a younger man) and from a fellow grad student who called the putting on of a wedding ring a “finger fuck of gold.”

I was in mourning during that seminar, so – despite my memory of the gold band and the blow job – I was drawn to the eulogies.  The poem that gobsmacked me that term was “The Next Story,” four stanzas by Pattiann Rogers about a group of jays that “screamed / with their whole bodies from the branches” and “swept across the lawn / into the oleanders, dipping low” as they mourn one of their own, killed by a cat.

Reading of the “shard / upon shard of frantic and crested descent, / jagged slivers of raucous outrage,” of “their inconsolable fear” amazed me.  Those images spoke to me, as nothing had yet or has since, of what I’d known, the year before, when my brother was killed.  A “perfect lament” indeed, Rogers’ poem asks the old anguished question Why? but in a way that resists “the old stories” of easy solace.

The poem’s speaker slams into the notion of death as “a limitation of vision, a fold / of landscape, a deep flax-and-poppy-filled / gully,” a “pleat in our perception.”  This speaker, this poem, knows how insufficiently those old stories serve against the sheer, pure scream of anguish.  After a year of sympathy cards telling me “he’s in a better place,” and “God has his reasons,” of pastel-hued views of what a friend called “cotton candy heaven,” I wept with relief at reading Rogers’ poem.

Rich’s poetry screams a clarion call, too, one (as Ilana writes in her blog) of “a modern-day incarnation of a Biblical prophet — driven by a moral compass, speaking truth to power, and speaking it with precision, clarity and beauty.”

That linking of poetry and prayer, of prophecy and precision, moved me this morning.  What poets have issued a clarion call that spoke to you?  What poems, years later, do you recall for how they spoke the unspeakable?

Advertisements

About lindseycrittenden

Lindsey Crittenden is the author of two published books: THE WATER WILL HOLD YOU: A SKEPTIC LEARNS TO PRAY (Harmony Books, 2007) and THE VIEW FROM BELOW, a collection of short stories (Midlist Press, 1999). Her personal essays and articles – on topics such as prayer, the pitfalls of too much California sunshine, and visiting a group of lifers at San Quentin – have appeared in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Image, Real Simple, Bon Appétit, East Bay Express, Health, and Best American Spiritual Writing. Her fiction has won national awards and has appeared in Glimmer Train, Bellingham Review, Quarterly West, and other publications. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she graduated from UC Berkeley, moved to New York City as soon as she could, and returned to California for grad school. While in the graduate creative writing program at UC Davis, she discovered (much to her surprise) the fun of teaching. She lives in San Francisco and teaches at UC Berkeley Extension. She has completed a novel, and is writing new short stories and a (very early stages) nonfiction exploration of spirituality & sex.
This entry was posted in craft, prayer, reading, spirituality, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to April Is National Poetry Month

  1. I’ve read regrettably little poetry in my life. Sadly, the only poem I can recall off the top of my head–the only one I’ve remembered through the years, not just long enough to recite for a high school class–was one by an “Anonymous.” That poem, “One Mile,” reminds me that there’s merit in “walking with Sorrow.” It touched me at 12 and it touches me still when I need it at 33.

  2. I can’t remember much of the poetry I’ve read either. I do have a Native American poem stashed on my hard drive somewhere that I love, and I remember having an Adrienne Rich poem pinned to my bulletin board years ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one it was. Her poetry is so powerful. What a great loss.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s