A fellow poet wrote to some of us to ask about poems we might suggest that would be useful as therapy. I sent her two of my poems and suggested one by Maxine Kumin. * All three are concerned with recognition and acceptance of mortality and with the pain of losing. But her query caused me to think more broadly about why we write and why we read poetry.
I write poems because of my love of language, imagery, rhythm, and rhyme. I am fascinated by the possibilities of form that I can use, how form is an integral foundation for making a poem work. I write from a need to play with words in every sense of “play.” I write, too, to convey feelings and thoughts that stem from experience, observation, my own fluctuating moods. I write aware of the voices of others, both old and new; every poem provides its own kind of nourishment.
I read poems to listen to other poets’ voices, to observe how they build their poems, how they give a poem strength, emotional force. I like to read books of poems to see how a poet views each separate poem as an entity that contributes to the effect of the whole.
I’d like to hear from you, either as reader or as writer. Why do you write? Why do you read poems? Who are your favorite poets?
* “That Fall,” from All Roads Go Where they Will,” “The Great Wave Near Kanagata,” from Migrations.
“Death, Etc.” from Still to Mow” W.W. Norton, 2007. http://www.cstone.net/~poems/deathkum.htm
It was autumn
six years ago
when we learned
your illness had returned.
I tended to our garden,
prepared our meals.
I walked the dog,
fed and brushed the cat.
I wrote a lecture,
refined a syllabus,
saw a student,
now and then
attempted to write
You sat for hours
behind your shining screen
refining facts and figures
for a manuscript
you trimmed and edited.
You scanned our assets
for signs of weaknesses
that needed your attention.
We both began to discard
mounds of files.
We culled the contents
of our bookshelves
and our closets,
appraised the silver,
cleaned the rugs.
We talked of daily news
messages from friends
our children and our grandchildren,
trips we planned to take,
shows or concerts
that we’d like to see.
Both of us lay awake at night
pretending that we slept.
That famous sword
was hanging just above us suspended
by a single thread
it might snap
at any moment
while we waited
The Great Wave Near Kanagata:
One of Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Prints of Mount Fuji
In these paintings, disaster never happens.
No fire, no lava explodes from the volcano’s mouth –
a wave rises, looms, crests, but never breaks.
Here a snow-capped volcano floats beyond the oikinami,
that huge wave about to break over oshiokuri-buno,
fragile boats hurrying to port with passengers and catch.
Above the tiny crafts, the sky glows pink and white,
the wave’s delicate drops of foam a benediction,
not a curse, the far distant mountain, an indifferent
observer. For Hokusai, artist of the ukiyo-e,
evanescent moment, the wave is poised where beauty
and disaster exist in a precarious equilibrium.
Here life stands in balance, moment just before
the wave breaks, the bomb falls, tornado rips.
I keep a copy of his picture to remind me.