The Trials and Trails of Poetry

- December 5, 2011

"Although you may not find comfort in the words of an unknown poet, certainly you will be jostled, opening a new door for contemplation on human condition"

When I was in second grade, at age 7, I remember my first lesson about poetry.  Certainly, I had already been taught rhymes and verse, and read a few earlier, but no one had discussed it or introduced me to more serious poets.  That day, I wrote my first poem. I kept writing poems that day until my teacher told me I could go back to normal writing.

Now decades later, I have enjoyed intensively collecting volumes of poetic verse.  Works by well-known classics poets such as Emily Dickinson, Robert Lowell and Robert Frost, to name a few, and newer contemporary poets fill my shelves too, along with discarded books, found often in thrift stores, which were at some moment treasured by the reader.  Many look no less worn than a new edition freshly sold from a nearby bookstore.

World Poetry, An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time, edited by Katherine Washburn and John S. Major, (1998, W.W. Norton), contains 1,233 pages of poems. What an amazing profile of human thought from over one thousand years. Poems from around the world. Ancient verse vitally expressing emotion and culture that addresses political, social, and spiritual concerns.

A recent "true" find captures the dilemma of free speech. The poet, Irina Ratushinskaya, published a volume, Poems, in Russian, French, and English, (Hermitage,1984), was sentenced to prison seven years hard labor for her verse and activism. She continued to write poetry while in prison. She was released after four years, and has kept writing while she lived in the U.S. and London and when she returned to Russia with her husband and two sons.

Selected Poems, by Margaret Atwood (Simon and Shuster, 1976)  offers cutting edge, poignant, sometimes chilling, poems about relationships and her world.  Her succinct and unusual imagery captivates the reader.

Poem A Day. Vol 2 edited by Laurie Sheck (Steelforth Press, 2003), also travels through time, including both classic and modern poems.  While you may find treasured poems from long ago, a few haunting poems and caustic poems remain as complete descriptions of poetry throughout the ages and around the world. Poetry crystallizes life, and a crystal always contains distinct, sometimes sharp, edges that express full spectrums of light and life.

Next time you might be browsing in a thrift store or book shop, be daring and pick up a volume of poetry. Although you may not find comfort in the words of an unknown poet, certainly you will be jostled, opening a new door for contemplation on human condition.  The price is right and the wisdom abundant.