Chalked on the blackboard of Mr. Black’s grade ten high school English classroom was this quote from Carl Sandburg: Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. It stayed there for the month or so that we covered poetry, reminding the tryers among us what we had to do to make people go “ahhh”.
Later, in third year-university, Professor Ron Wallace brought all us “excellent” English students to our knees as he taught us how to parse a poem. We weren’t allowed to talk about feelings. No, we had to explain HOW the poet conveyed what she wanted the reader to feel. I learned never to take a word for granted. I learned connotation and denotation. I learned sound and word placement. I learned rhythm and meter and stress. I learned I was a shitty poet and didn’t understand poetry very well after all. It was horribly humbling.
Still, I continue to write poetry, mostly for fun and without serious intent. It is a kind of catharsis. Some people keep journals and do morning pages. Poetry is my emetic. Up come all kinds of ideas and I feel pretty good afterwards. As my dear friend with Crohns Disease says, “Better out than in.”
But I still love reading poetry. And I found myself holding my breath at times when I read my friend, Luanne Castle’s, book of poems “Doll God”. Yes, in it she does what Carl Sandburg advised. She marries plain Jane to George Clooney and makes you gasp in recognition. Her subjects are everyday things – cats, plants, and birds; marriage, dolls, and nursery rhymes; cactuses, arroyos, and saguaros; children, worry, and anxiety passing and permanent; loss.
Luanne’s book is at my bedside where I have a nightly read of a few of her poems and go to sleep with powerful words and images like these:
“When you wake before sunrise,
See the sky’s floor crack open.
Molten light flows in, pools
At the horizon. You can’t go back
To sleep or to yesterday. Today
Wells up before you like an open
Wound which needs tending.”
“Mid-afternoon, the only movements:
Cottontails dart like ballplayers
From creosote to cactus to ocotillo.
A sky so blue it hisses at my touch.”
I need my dictionary and Google. Do you know what a javelina is? Or an ocotillo? How about “locus”? I love that I have to grab my dictionary when I’m lying in bed. I love my old dictionary, too, with its crumbling glue that flakes onto my chest when I open its hard covers. I love the old-fashioned touch of Luanne’s book and the smell of ink on paper and gently turning the pages so as not to disturb the sleeping words waiting for me on the next turn.
Sometimes I have to turn the page without understanding what I’ve read but that’s okay. Poetry can be a puzzle just like the giant jigsaw you leave for weeks on your dining room table, you suddenly recognize where a piece should go and tap it in place.
I expect Luanne’s book will be at my bedside for a while.