Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What inspires me - poetry

On Wednesdays throughout September I'll be looking at other's creative work that I find inspirational.

This week I'd like to look at a few poems. Next week, the 9th, I'll look at a few paintings. We'll see what comes after that.

When I read the right poem at the right time a couple of things happen.
  • I feel a deep and aching resonance with both the written word and the world. I feel recognized.
  • I feel a need a to write, to at least try to capture this sense of recognition on paper.
This latter phenomenon means I have written a lot of bad poetry in the style of various poets. I'm hoping my loving family will burn this, unread, when I die. At a minimum I hope it makes them chuckle.

Here are a few of the poems that I have found to be particularly moving in the last few months. These are well known, oft-spoken poems, but they have been an anodyne in the midst of chaos.
* * *
I have needed kindness lately, in my own heart, for myself and for others. This poem helps remind me.

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
* * *
And this poem helps me to remember to move through the world with my eyes open. What better way to live?

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

* * *

So, tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? When have you known kindness? And what poems move you to tears and joy?

Tomorrow I'll be thinking about creativity, so check back in. See you soon!

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1 comment:

  1. Recently at work (maybe for the first time ever at work!) somehow the subject of poetry came up. I mentioned how I had a book of poetry from when I was a kid, and how one of my favorite poems had the line "...her realio, trulio, little pet dragon."

    Two other people immediate piped in - "Oh yeah! I remember that poem!" The next few days we brought in the books that we had that contained "The Tale of Custard the Dragon" by Ogden Nash.

    It was fun to share, and surprising how many people had poetry sneaking around in the backs of the their brains at work.



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