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Poetry as Gold. . .

Welcome to the Savvy Verse & Wit blog tour for National Poetry Month in the United States, but here on the blog, I consider it more of an international celebration.

If you have signed up to celebrate poetry this month, there are still some dates open, just check the schedule and let me know what date you’d prefer.

This past week I was reading Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, translated by Barbara Harshav, and I came across a commentary about recreating the Portuguese language to make it clearer and truer to its origins: “The waiter, the barber, the conductor — they would be puzzled if they heard the newly set words and their amazement would refer to the beauty of the sentence, a beauty that would be nothing by the gleam of their clarity. … At the same time, they would be without exaggeration and without pomposity, precise and so laconic that you couldn’t take away one single word, one single comma. Thus they would be like a poem, plaited by a goldsmith of words.” (page 26) This passage reminded me of how poets — and fiction writers — often seek out ways through language to make images, characters, situations, emotions, and more clear to the reader — drawing connections between images that may, at first, seem to have nothing to do with one another, but through a juxtaposition or other means provide the reader with some insight or generate within him or her a deeper understanding or emotional response.

As I’m sure many of my faithful readers know, I read and write poetry, but they probably also know that I love Yusef Komunyakaa‘s work in particular.  “Facing It” is one of my all time favorites, and I think part of it is because I can picture exactly what he’s seeing as the Vietnam veteran in the poem describes his first experience with the Vietnam War Memorial.

Facing It

My black face fades,   
hiding inside the black granite.   
I said I wouldn't  
dammit: No tears.   
I'm stone. I'm flesh.   
My clouded reflection eyes me   
like a bird of prey, the profile of night   
slanted against morning. I turn   
this way—the stone lets me go.   
I turn that way—I'm inside   
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light   
to make a difference.   
I go down the 58,022 names,   
half-expecting to find   
my own in letters like smoke.   
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   
I see the booby trap's white flash.   
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse   
but when she walks away   
the names stay on the wall.   
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's   
wings cutting across my stare.   
The sky. A plane in the sky.   
A white vet's image floats   
closer to me, then his pale eyes   
look through mine. I'm a window.   
He's lost his right arm   
inside the stone. In the black mirror   
a woman’s trying to erase names:   
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

In particular, I love the parts of the poem where he describes reflections in unique ways, especially when the reflection eyes him like a bird of prey and the names that “shimmer on a woman’s blouse” but remain on the wall as she walks away. In addition, the poem reflects on the practice of rubbing the names onto paper from the wall as a form of care and caress — “she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”

Sorrow 2 -- Vietnam Wall

In many ways, poetry not only tells stories, but creates them with their readers and generates an emotional response that can be carried over to friends, families, or even book clubs. These are the types of poems that I consider “gold.”

What makes a great poem for you?

  • I’m a little late here, but I still wanted to stop by and I’m glad I did.

    What makes a great poem is the writer, and the speaker, I think. Sometimes, though, I think it’s just the writer. Years ago when in college, I saw Allen Ginsberg and wasn’t that impressed with him as a speaker, but as a writer, I love him.

    • I’m not a big fan of Ginsberg, but I love Ferlinghetti!

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  • That’s one of his best poems, and he’s one of my favorite poets, too. Those last lines are fantastic. You know the poetry that I love is not abstract, but something I can connect with on some level, even if it’s just one line or one image.

    • I think for poetry to be good, it has to make a connection to you in some way.

  • Individual lines are what I read poetry for. “I’m stone. I’m flesh.” That’s where my eyes started to blur.

    • I do love individual lines, particularly if they are powerful.

  • That really is a powerful poem. I’m looking forward to this month!

  • Such a beautiful poem, you are right, I could also picture it all easily while he read. And I just love your ending paragraph, Serena. Poetry has a way of creating stories with its readers, gives the meaning readers recognize.

    Thank you for hosting the Blog Tour again, this year – it was about time I squeezed in some more poetry reading, and play into my annoyingly hectic schedule! 🙂

    • I just love poetry, and especially love sharing it for National Poetry Month, though I’d like it to be International Poetry Month!

  • I think it’s fantastic that you spread your love of poetry in April… and every month. I especially enjoyed the one you shared today!

    • Thanks, Julie for checking out today’s kick-off post. I hope the month is full of poetry for everyone in at least some capacity.