One Benefit of Poetry Appreciation: It Can Save Your Life10/29/2012
Poetry will save your life. At least it did for Jim Moore.
“Something about thinking through metaphor and image, sound and rhythm,” recalls Moore of the desperate time when he discovered poetry, “reminded me of life’s possibilities, made it seem worth living again.”
Jim Moore and Deborah Keenan are teaching a one-day class on poetry appreciation at the University of Minnesota on November 10th. “They have guided me all my life,” Deborah Keenan says of poems, and both she and Jim would like to help you discover the wisdom between the lines.
Whether it is discovered in a lullaby or a stray chapbook, a lifetime of love for poetry begins with a single verse. Below, both poets share how they first became captivated by poetry.
Please share your own stories of learning to appreciate poetry in the comments field below.
Keenan, author most recently of the new and selected collection, Willow Room, Green Door, heard her first rhymes in the nursery:
I was lucky. My parents loved poetry. They felt no contempt for poetry or poets, only admiration and appreciation. I still remember my mother’s low voice as she read nursery rhymes, as she sang—only slightly off-key—good night songs. Maybe the first poem I remember is “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.” I love the repetition, love how the word “wish” keeps coming, keeps the idea of believing in wishes alive ‘til the very end of the poem. And I love the cadence, the movement. I also see how Christina Rossetti’s beautiful, “who has seen the wind, neither you nor I,”—recited endlessly to me—has played out in all my books. The wind is always the most honored and sacred presence, collection after collection. As I grew up I was fortunate to have teachers who honored poetry: Eliot in his despair and intelligence, Wallace Stevens’ “the reader leaning late and reading there”, Dickinson’s “I’m nobody, who are you, are you nobody too?” I see the influence of many poets in my own work today. Even when poems leave me stranded, indifferent, I rarely give up on them.
I am lucky; appreciating poems, loving some of them—they have guided me all my life.
Moore—author of Invisible Strings, Lightning at Dinner, The Freedom of History, and many other collections—read his first collection in between delivering pizzas:
I came to poetry quite late. I was in college already, and desperate. My life was falling apart at the time (the usual girl problems), and I didn’t know where to turn. I was living in Norman, Oklahoma, selling hot pies out of my car to fraternities and sororities late at night. My car stank of them and probably I did, too. One day I walked into a bookstore and pulled off the shelf, in desperation and at random, a collection of poems. It was by Kenneth Rexroth and it bowled me over. He was writing about all the things that were troubling me, but writing about them in a way that had something to teach me, that breathed air into everything I was going through: something about thinking through metaphor and image, sound and rhythm reminded me of life’s possibilities, made it seem worth living again. The miracle is that poetry has continued to do that for me for the four decades since that moment.
Learn more about Keenan and Moore’s class on poetry appreciation and register here.