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Poetry that makes my world shift

Some poems seem inaccessible. But when one resonates, it changes our perceptions.

By Dawn Goldsmith / April 3, 2008



My copy of Mid-American Review lay on the table for weeks. Literary writing and I don't always mix well. It stands elite and all-knowing, nose in the air, page after page of introspection based upon Greek myths and sophisticated-yet-obscure references that only a few will recognize – or so it seems.

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Literary writing ranks right beside country music for me. I know, strange bed-fellows. Yet I tire of the dog getting kicked, the woman getting pregnant, the man leaving, the woman running off with the stranger, the truck breaking down. It is a rare country song that captures my ear.

I would venture to say I feel rather elitist when listening to country music, and I don't like myself when I feel that way. And I feel like an uneducated dunce when reading literary writings, which is another self-perception I can live more happily without.

And don't get me started on poetry. Mostly I ramble through the lines, and the last word is always my own question: "Huh?"

There are a few poets I embrace. Anything Alice Folkart writes, I love. I like Alice, too! And I'm fond of woolly-eyebrowed Robert Frost and his roads less taken. I even like Carl Sandburg and his fog on cats' feet. I enjoy Jane Yolen's poems for children. And I adore Shel Silverstein. But when it comes to real adult poetry – Emily Dickinson is understandable, usually. My sister-in-law writes poetry for family and friends, and her poems always make me smile and nod; I can "see" the people she writes about. So I love her poetry; it connects me to a home I haven't seen in too many years.

Usually I don't even bother to read the poetry in literary journals. I know they'll leave me in the dust before I've read the first line. But in some perverse, self-demoralizing way – or maybe it was just hope sprung anew with the dawning of a new year – I opened Volume XXVIII, Number 1 and began reading Bob Hicok's "Making the list I will never make."

OK, with this one my "Huh?" came right after reading the title. But it was a "Huh? What list could that be?" Not "Huh, I don't know what he's talking about."

He didn't beat around the bush. He told me the answer in the first line: "I'm supposed to write down what I want of my father's when he dies."

Oh. I read on. I liked the way he described how he doodled on the page instead of beginning the list. I also liked the way he made his doodles seem as if he held someone's life or future in his hands, holding the eraser ready to save a life.

Then, instead of the minutiae I expected to see on his list he wrote: "Your Jupiter.... Your subway system."

Huh? But it was another good "huh." Then he teased me along with another departure from the list and a return to the process.

"A group of bicyclists whoosh along.... There's something of a cricket sound to the collective tickings of metal.... I confess to the pad that I want all of my father's crickets. His entire night, for that matter."

Ahhhhh. I make a new sound, and my whole world shifts. A new perspective. And that is what I adore about poetry.

Sometimes my thoughts become set in concrete. I see everything the same way I've always seen it. My narrow little world and my teeny-tiny focused perspective fits so familiarly within my life that I don't consider any other way of seeing something.

Mr. Hicok surprises me yet again with: "I've been thinking of getting away. There's a tree some hundreds yards off I've been waiting to get a brochure about...."

A brochure to go visit a tree? I smiled and nodded. We fall into the trap that we must always plan our travels, must find someone else's hype and read it before we venture out to see nature. Someone has to tell me what I'm looking at or I might miss what I'm supposed to see. I've lost trust in myself, my senses. I fail to use them, I live by rote. I don't let myself just experience things.

That's why I need poetry in my life. Why I need to read it and either say, "Huh? I don't get it." Or wait for the days when I say "Ah-haaaaaaa." Then all the wonder returns. I've shed 30 years and just as many pounds, and I am young and curious and surprisingly alive in my mental adventure, thanks to the words of a poet.

Thank you, Mr. Hicok, for your profound, entertaining, thought-provoking, and inspiring, love-soaked poem. It makes me feel as though my dad's here with me again, too. At least the love I felt for him is here, and that makes him feel closer, I know.

Part of me yearns to sit and read and reread Hicok's words. Part of me steps back and shakes my head, afraid that this one poem is an anomaly and the rest will pass right over my head, reducing me to that kid with the dunce cap muttering, "Huh? What is he saying? I don't get it. I don't get it!"

Poetry and I have a definite love-hate relationship. Today, I'm in love. Thanks, Bob.

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