This journal is dedicated to people who are inexperienced with
poetry or feel intimidated when they hear the word. Last month's
journal ended with the fact that April is National Poetry Month,
as well as a question: Is it possible that there is hope for
poetry in America? An answer came from my webmaster, Patsy McCowan,
whose story of quiet love for poetry had a powerful effect on
me. It explains poetry's raison d'être, its reason for
Patsy began by sharing her memory of a haiku written by Ryo-kan:
"The thief left it behind/the moon at my window."
She went on to say that she liked it better as: "Moon at
the window/the thief left behind." She continued, "When
I'm walking in the quiet solitude of the deep woods, I think
of a million haikus and will someday take a tablet and pen and
write them down."
Patsy's experience with haiku explains everything anyone needs
to know about what poetry has to offer. First, she walks in
the woods and connects to nature by using the centuries-old
form of haiku. Never mind the three line, 5-7-5 syllable count
that we found easy to analyze in school. For Patsy, haiku is
a way to express her feelings about the trees, the light, the
air, the rain, or the crunch of leaves under her feet. Haiku
is the cup to fill with her thoughts, and as Gregory Corso said
in the opening quotation, haiku can condense experience and
"illuminate the spirit."
Second, Patsy is doing with language what all poets do: playing
with syntax. Consider the word order of her remembered haiku
by Ryo-kan. He seems to be saying that a thief may be able to
take many valuable things, but has to leave something more precious
behind, the moon outside his window. Patsy's revision is a turn
of phrase using the same words, but she has transformed it into
a witty and delightful narrative. I imagine the thief standing
inside the house he is robbing, realizing he has been abandoned
by his cohorts. The moonlight allows me to see the shock on
The final part of Patsy's message tells what it means to live
a busy life in which poetry has a place, but how she wishes
it could take up more space. She wrote: "Whenever I recall
[a haiku], it gives me a great sense of peace. When I say that
I think of them, I mean ones that I would write, and other times
some that I've read." That's the writer's dilemma. We walk
around composing, gathering, bumping into doors. While poems
are often products of draft-after-draft struggles, they usually
begin in a notebook taken on a walk in the woods, or on a napkin
used to surreptitiously record a snatch of conversation in a
restaurant. Full notebooks and stuffed pockets give proof that
at least our powers of observation are in play. That's what
poets do: we notice everything and collect what we can. And
these snippets COULD end up woven into poems. Or, just as importantly,
they are there to be read six months later to help us recapture
a moment that was significant enough to jot down.
Patsy also reads haiku. She has an acquired taste for the form,
which means she reads them because she wants to, not because
she is required to do so. If you are someone in search of poetry,
there are some things you can do to find it.
Go to your newspaper's entertainment/spoken word section and
see if there are any poetry readings scheduled in April. Bookstores
and colleges frequently sponsor them, and they are usually free
and open to the public.
Join the Academy of American Poets (www.poets.org/membership).
You can sign up for a Poem-a-Day in April, which will give you
"an excellent sampling of the new voices and driving forces
of the poetry world" (www.poets.org/poemADay.php).
Take one hour, go to your public library, find the poetry section,
pull several books and journals randomly from the shelves, and
read. Find one poem that you REALLY like. Copy it into your
notebook. Enjoy the feel of writing the words and luxuriating
in the white space around them. Once you've accomplished this,
you will have begun to acquire a taste for poetry. Remember,
taste is an individual thing. Go at it with your heart AND brain.
Make the default page on your browser www.poems.com.
You can connect to the Internet with a poem before you move
on to a zillion other less important things.
Thank you to Patsy McCowan, who provided me with the perfect
vignette to say my piece in honor of National Poetry Month.
How will you commemorate it? Write to me at email@example.com.
In May's journal, I will be choosing a few paintings from my
Gallery Chapters section and write about what inspired me to
make them. If you are curious about a particular artwork and
want me to include it in the blog, contact me!