Every Saturday morning, I go to my cafe writing spot while half of the world is still sleeping off their week and the other industrious souls are grocery shopping, waxing the kitchen floor, and changing the car's oil in the driveway. The poetry section of the bookstore is my first stop--where I select a volume of poems at random and carry it to my table. Flicking open to a page I see a turn of phrase and copy it into my notebook, citing the poet and book so I can always find my way back. Then, I leap--out of my own head, following the prompt wherever it takes me from trees becoming lovers, to birdcages, to bitter birds, to limbs uncoiling like smooth rope, to the break in the page like a curved neck bowed in elegant prayer. Here, I find poets as muses, inspiring--as parents, comforting--as stab wounds, scarring. I could trace the lineage of my literary family--journal the travels down printed paths. I could dissect one poem so deeply--packed with meaning as it is--that it would be on the far side of a microscope lens, and perhaps some would say, a little less alive with the pinned down edges.
When I take on a new poet--a hastily discovered artisan of these same words we all use to fight, to break, to lie...the affair consumes me. I don't just want the one book, I want them all. I don't just want the poems, I want their story...their region...their context. The book goes with me to the doctor's office, making heaven out of all of that waiting...to the bathtub...to the bedside table. For a while, I think of marriage with these words--of how no one else will ever write their way into my heart like this. But then, another Saturday rolls around and I notice the glint of light on the spine of another book in the poetry section. Before I even know what I'm doing, I have those pages spread open and I'm drowning again in another Siren's song.
I stumbled over Linda Pastan some years back with a book title, Heroes in Disguise, seducing me as I stood there, minding my own business. She and I still meet up often--I just cannot leave her when she writes things like this...
A New Poet
Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see
its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way
its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled
red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day--the odor of truth
and of dying.
And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only
in your dream there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.
--Linda Pastan (1991)--
Good to know I'm not the only one breaking open against the undeniable prowess of poetry. For those who say they don't like reading poems, I say simply, you haven't met the one yet. Somewhere a book stands up a little bit taller on the dusty shelf...until the day you just happen to pass by.