Monday, April 12, 2010

'All the men...were my brothers, the women my sisters and lovers'

Last night I dreamt I randomly entered a roller coaster compartment at some sort of amusement park next to Alice Munro. (This may have stemmed from a recent Facebook conversation I had about her with Heidi of Heidi's Table, I don't know.) But inexplicably, my whole family seemed to disappear somewhere, and we spent the day together…chatting in lines and buying cotton candy (Alice and me, not Heidi and me, although she certainly would have been welcome). I tried to work up the courage to ask her to read a manuscript or to at least recommend me to her agent based on our magical day alone, but I woke before the words could get out of my mouth.

I don’t know what that means, but it can't be good.

And besides, while I admire Alice Munro, if I were to pick someone to spend a day with, it'd be Anne Lamott, hands down. Yes sir-ie, I'd pour out my soul to Anne Lamott. Something tells me she'd be a very good listener. Then I'd follow every bit of advice she gave me for the rest of my life.

Anne Lamott actually reminds me--both in demeanor and in prose--of one of my absolute favorite English professors from my college days, the notable poet Laurie Lamon. I was so fortunate to be taught by this woman. Lamon creates verse in a quiet, unassuming way that speaks of grace and finesse with a steady, absorbing glow--never a jarring flare--of written word, a talent noticed even by the literary genius that is Donald Hall.

But all of this prose and poetry talk brings me to the fact that April is National Poetry Month, which is, in my opinion, one of the only good things about April. And yes, I realize that these assigned 'national whatever months' are largely self-proclaimed, often contrived and usually pointless, but I choose to celebrate this one anyway, not, this year, as a dabbling poet (because I don't know whether publication in a spattering of literary journals even counts) but as a dedicated admirer of poetry.

Because I wasn't always. In fact, as much as I loved to read and write, I never gave poetry the time of day until my freshman year of college when I entered Laurie's (she never went by 'professor' in her classroom) Intro to Poetry class (mostly because it was required for my English writing degree), chose a seat under a southward-facing window, and cracked open Discovering Poetry (101?) for the first time.

And Laurie began to speak in her soft-spoken, unassuming manner, leading us as we read, pulling us in and out of the words as though weaving through the lines and syllables: up, down, over and under, her hands drawing us forth, her pauses drawing us out.

And on those early fall days, as strips of sun slanted across my desk and set dust motes to drifting, I was spellbound. There is no other way to describe it.

I read William Carlos Williams' Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and Wallace Stevens' Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird and Walt Whitman's Song of Myself and I thought oh dear God, yes. This. THIS is for me.

And some days, I flourished amid all these new concepts and sounds. Other days, I floundered through the words like a young woman drowning; nothing about poetry is easy. But I spent three more happy years in Laurie's classes, then as her classroom aid and her student literary magazine editor, because I could not get enough. Because even the reading of this medium is a paradox: on the one hand, nothing is given to the reader freely. You work. You study the page while drawing sweat on your brow and creases around your mouth. On the other hand, every end-stop and half-rhyme is an offering deposited at your feet. An annointment so gracefully given it can make you gasp.

And even now, over a decade later, every time I pick up a new volume or discover a new poet, I think of Laurie Lamon and her amazing words and her equally inspiring teaching in that sunny classroom, and I am grateful.

Grateful for the whole word of words and ideas that awaited me. Grateful that someone took me by the hand and led to toward the cool drink of water that is verse.

If you, too, could use a little hand holding, try the volumes linked above, or maybe one of these:

The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton

Fork Without Hunger: Poems


Dear Ghosts,: Poems

Either way,

Just.

Try.
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