The Avid Reader: Poetry must be read slowly and savored fully

Published: 12/16/2020 5:27:57 PM

Poetry is something near and dear to my heart. I write it (badly), I read it (avidly), I appreciate it (immensely). In talking about poetry with children, I usually hear that the best poems rhyme, have strong visual images, and make smiles or laughter happen. I always remember “The Pickety Fence” by David McCord. This poem is to be read fast, so that, when read correctly, it sounds like the speed of a stick striking a fence. That is a perfect example of rhyme, imagery, sound, and yes, laughter.

For some reason, however, when we get to be adults, we often forget the power of poems. Perhaps because some poems are a challenge to fathom, or perhaps because the effort to engage with writing in a form other than prose is unfamiliar. For what ever reason, we need to establish a connection to poetry because it is often only the poet who fully opens her/his heart and fully engages with the reader. Unlike McCord’s poem however, the writing of adult poets must be read slowly and savored fully.

Meg Kearney is such a poet. I have long been a fan, and I try to find and read every poem she writes. Her newest, “The Ice Storm” is a heart-wrenching series of poems about the end of a marriage. The volume is slim, the content is heavy. Kearney begins this flowing journey with a poem titled “rain.” The marriage, in the beginning, is as innocent as rain. But as the time progresses, the weather changes until a tempest-strike of ice brings the conflicts to a head. The implosion happens, things are never the same again, and yet, she must go on – alone this time and feeling this ice left from marital storms. We struggle with the woman who is left behind in this hellish climate. How will she do? Will she maintain the dwelling? Does she have enough food? All these thoughts crowd our minds as we read of the conflict, the hurt, the anger, and the eventual hate.

Our poet faces this end head on, with head high, and eventually looking ahead. Kearney uses these poems, actually sonnets, to express not only the rawness of the loss, but the healing that the writing brings, and truth of that process.

Powerful stuff, and not to be read lightly. Rather, this collection should be savored, and the pain endured just for the beauty of the words. I told you I was a fan – and for good reason.

Rachel Sturges is a young poet with some serious writing muscle as well. Her collection, “you, genesis” is her first, and it is an amazing beginning. Sturges, a 2019-2020 New Hampshire Youth Poet Laureate, and graduate of ConVal High School, who proves herself time and again with every poem in this collection.

“Hitchhiker’s Exodus” is one of my favorites from this collection. Sturges writes of Route 202, a familiar road to most of us. Yet, her poem pushes us to imagine the hitchhiker like a tree in the “between-ness” of towns. He is not anywhere, he is going somewhere he knows not, and the readers must examine their own feelings as we witness one so weary and broken plodding on in hopes of a better something ahead – because there is nothing but brokenness the way they came.

Sturges sees all this with the intense eyes of youth. Where our jaded adult eyes would perhaps slide over the hitchhiker, she ponders his fate, his possible history, and perhaps his future. Once read, we can never again not look at a hitchhiker even as we drive past, and not feel some of his pain and weariness. That is what real poetry does to us.

Sure, Sturges’ writing could be thought of as that bridge between the pain of youth where youth sees and feels too much, and the agony of adulthood where we refuse to feel at all, but to limit it to that does not give her enough credit as a poet. No, while she does show the passion of youth with all its intensity and feeling, Sturges digs far deeper into her heart to bring forth mature feelings worthy of any age. And this nudges the reader into that perilous zone of empathy. Read the book, it’s worth it.

Kearney and Stergis dig deep into the psyche and then lay it bare for all to read. This is one of the most intimate experiences a poet can give a reader; and several poets have done just this in the Peterborough Poetry Project anthology, “Day After Day in Quarantine.”

The Peterborough Poetry Project anthology gives voice to 23 poets and contains essays on writing by Meg Petersen, the founding director of the National Writing Project in New Hampshire, and Stephen Delbos, the first Poet Laureate of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

There is usually one thing about books of poetry that sometimes tricks the reader. Because they are so slim, we think that the entire thing can be read in one sitting. I am here to tell you: Don’t Do It!

Rather, each poem, especially in all of these volumes, needs to be read very slowly and perhaps one a day. This takes discipline, but it is worth it.

These poets have experienced profound loss, felt loneliness, drifted through the agony of endless days of vigil praying for the survival of a COVID-stricken loved one. They are getting through by putting their deepest, innermost feelings on paper, in hopes of helping themselves survive until this epidemic is over.

Exhausted thoughts, guarded emotions, these poets express all our thoughts and sensations. Rob Bauer wrote of “Battlefield Death.” The field was a hospital bed, the battle was a virus with no prejudice – it will kill across all lines. The making of a “good death” with comfort and peace after a long life well-lived was not to be. This reality was “just a lonely death, in an antiseptic room. She died on the battlefield, in a war, she could not hide from.”

These fallen have left the real wounded alive, perhaps never to fully heal because the thought of “what could have been” will always drive the internal narrative of what was.

Yes, read one poem at a time, feel the anguish, the joy, the way poets heal their souls and how they write trying to help us heal ours. We must walk through the purifying fires of truth with them, but in the end, they help us emerge stronger, more resilient, empowered.


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