I suppose if I look far enough back into my memory, I have liked poetry since I was a child. After all, most children’s books have some sort of lyric to them (the good ones, anyway). But I never really loved poetry until college. I wrote quite a bit in high school, and I continued even until now. During each season of reading and writing this form, what I love and what I create changes.
It is amazing, poetry. You can do so many things with a poem. They can be short or long. They rhyme, keep time, and find secret places in our heartbeats. Poems connect us to the past, idealize moments, and push us on in hope. They describe despair, they capture our teardrops, and you can hear laughter in a spoken verse. Overall, though, I think the best way to describe a poem is as a story. They are just a different form of storytelling. Sometimes, you follow a poet to the seaside, or a dewy morning. You listen in as they serenade their love, or mourn death and heartbreak. At times, you become the speaker, finding yourself drawn into the fears and wonderings. The stories are sometimes obvious, sometimes experienced, and sometimes hidden. These stories become a part of ourselves. They freeze moments in time for us to cherish throughout the generations.
I find it best to look at poems in various ways. What is the poet trying to say? How do I interpret their words? What is the historical and personal context of the writing? Why do I love this form, this style, those specific words? What was the message? What memories do I attach to these words? Was there a tune? Questions, questions… but like most stories – the good ones, at least – poetry grapples with them too.
I have a favorite book I read to my daughter. More than likely, you’ve never heard of it. It is called “Snuggletime Fall Blessings.” Quaint, no? There is nothing particularly special about the book. Inside, you are brought from the start to the end of Autumn, bringing with it all its changes and moments. It is all written in poetry, and I could nearly recite it to you now. Each page is illustrated with woodland creatures, and I simply love it.
But it is not just the story that draws me to this book, nor the idyllic illustrations. Instead, every time I read that book, I am brought to a memory. A series of memories, really. I am transported to the fall of last year. We picked up the book in a small shop on the west side of Michigan. We were on our first vacation as a whole family, our first real vacation since we’d married. We were nervous about this trip. Would the weather hold? Would our daughter cooperate? Was it too late? And, worst of all, would we still love this place like we used to? You see, this was the area where my husband and I spent our first months as a married couple. Those are stories for another time. Thankfully, our worries were for nothing, and we made new memories here.
So back to the book. My daughter wasn’t actually reading then, but she loved books. But she hadn’t looked at this one, though, until we were coming back from one of our last walks around the lake. My, what a day that was. It was perfect. The day was sunny, but cool. Clear skies with a touch of breeze. The water shimmered blue, and the Michigan colors of fall were in full display. In a word, it was gorgeous. As we said our goodbyes and drove home, I looked back. My daughter had found her book and was “reading” it. My husband and I were pretty excited. We hadn’t been sure she’d want it! But, there she was.
Even now, she loves that book, and I love reading it to her. It reminds me of fall, but most of all, it reminds me of that trip with my whole family. Most especially, it reminds me of that day. That is poetry to me. It is the words I read, but it is also the memories of the moment I read them first. Like the song that takes you back to high school, or the smell of warm grass that places you on the hill down the street from your childhood home. Poetry is the moments that came before us and the future we’ve yet to hold. That is why I read it; that is why I write it.
Over the next couple of months, I will be writing about some of my favorite poems. But be prepared: These might be rather nontraditional analyses of poetry! I won’t always talk about their form or style, or specific word choices, or even what the poet meant. I might not talk about historical contexts or my memories with them. Or I might talk about all that and more. Poetry is an amazing and versatile form of writing, and its examination should be the same. Though it is not for everyone, I hope you will join me as we connect across times and spaces together in the reading of this great form called the poem.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig