Sunday, February 28, 2010

Unfinished post: Poetry Reading

I first wrote this post for the Lighthouse blog, back in November, but ultimately decided it was too personal to share on a more public site. I was reminded of it tonight for two reasons. First, a work event I attended included a the lovely poet Lynn Wagner reading from her work, No Blues This Raucous Song, and the post is about feeling affected by a poetry reading. Second, when my GPS system had "trouble acquiring satellites" on my home from Denver, and I wasn't sure how to find my way out of town, I was reminded, yet again, that we're new here, and I think this post is also about wishing for familiarity.

I honestly thought I had posted this before, but a search of the blog turns up nothing. This is a minor miracle tonight, when I am very tired and would be hard pressed to truly post anew. So, here it is (excuse the formatting, it's a result of the cut and paste):

>Listening to John Brehm read from his collections tonight, I was reminded what it was to be 13, copying poems from the pages of Sassy magazine into a notebook: finally, someone had gotten it just right, found the exact words to express things I had felt.

True, Brehm's work recalled some of my own experiences: like him, I lived in Brooklyn for twelve years before moving to Boulder; lived there happily for a decade, then not. Like him, spent the final years jangling from the noise and complexity and the just plain hardness of it all. I saw myself in his poems: I have been to that social security office, though my bad encounter had to do with throwing out my lunch because it was not allowed through security. I have stood on that corner of Park and 17th, looking up, only I was looking for The Avalon, the restaurant where my college roommate had cocktail waitressed. It was a pleasure to remember the way that poetry can transport you to another time and place.

But of course, the power of poetry is also its ability to cut you to the quick, and quickly.

While these New York scenes made me feel something familiar- nostalgia, maybe, something backwards-looking, it was the universal evoked in his work that offered a familiarity that somehow looks forward. Like this:

from Sea of Faith

(In this poem, a freshman student has asked whether the Sea of Faith in the poem Dover Beach is “a real sea”)

I tried to explain in such a way

as to protect her from humiliation,

tried to explain that poets

often speak of things that don't exist.

It was only much later that I wished

I could have answered differently,

only after I'd betrayed myself

and been betrayed that I wished

it was true, wished there really were a Sea of Faith

that you could wade out into,

dive under its blue and magic waters,

hold your breath, swim like a fish

down to the bottom, and then emerge again

able to believe in everything, faithful

and unafraid to ask even the simplest of questions,

happy to have them simply answered.

Yes, yes, I thought, and turned my face in the bright room where the reading was held, to conceal the fact that I was crying.

I felt the wave rising in me, the journey I was being taken on, and I thought, maybe if I try not to listen too hard, if I listen softly, like watching through my fingers, maybe I can quell the tears.

When I got home, I sat my husband down and read him this poem. But when I got to those last lines and felt the wave again, this time, in private, I rode it. My voice quavered as I finished the poem, and I didn’t bother to collect myself.

And Dave, my husband, smiled.

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