When did you fall in love with poetry?
I once heard Jimmy Santiago Baca read. He discovered poetry in jail. He was learning to read, found poetry, and became a poet himself.
My friend, the poet Svea Barrett, says that poetry saved her during a difficult time in her life.
I fell in love on the floor of my brother's bedroom, on a sunny day in the late 1970s. My youngest brother was an infant and I was eight. Was he sleeping or playing quietly? Maybe he wasn't in the room at all. A copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses sat in my lap.
We had plenty of books. I was familiar with nursery rhymes and books like The Big Orange Splot and Fortunately were family favorites. We also loved the Mr. Men series, which we'd brought back from trips to my mother's native England (you couldn't get them in the U.S. back then).
I loved books, but this was different. On this day, I had an experience. Like an epiphany.
|This illustration looks vaguely familiar.
How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!
Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside—
Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!
The weird thing was, I knew that place. My grandparents had a big house on the outskirts of a small Nottinghamshire village. We visited once a year. I had "my own" bedroom in their house. And from that bedroom's high window, I could literally look "over the wall,/ Till I can see so wide,/ Rivers and trees and cattle and all/ Over the countryside."
I remember, I couldn't stop staring at the picture in my book. That someone could describe this place that was special to me. In that moment, I was in our house in New Jersey, but I could see the landscape of far away England. I read the words again and felt the swinging motion in the rhythm. I could picture myself on that swing, high up, looking at the farms and fields surrounding my grandparents' house. I could picture myself coming down -- the brown brick of the house, my grandmother's rock garden beyond the kitchen window.
I think that I have loved poetry ever since. My next big crush was Edgar Allan Poe. Then William Carlos Williams. All along, I kept writing.
A high school field trip to the first Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival sealed the deal. There, I was introduced to modern poets like Sonia Sanchez. The first poet I heard on that trip was Galway Kinnell, reading in a small church. The early light shone on him as he read -- I felt transported.
I love sharing poetry with children. I never know which poem is going to spark a light in which kid. (My daughter is partial to Calef Brown, particularly his poem "Olf," about a terrible -- as in not very good at his job -- pirate.)
What about you? Do you remember your first poetry epiphany, when the art form grabbed your heart and wouldn't let go?
|Poetry makes me feel like this guy.