Monday, April 1, 2013


We live our lives and in the living we learn and become.

Whether we make note of the learning,  whether we notice or not, as we journey on our path we are gathering extra bits of wisdom and knowledge .  

Whether we record the intuitive and passing observations or not, we come to know stuff—as we talk, as we read, as we interact and experience the world. 

We come to know facts and understandings about the world, the creatures therein, and the phenomena  of our existence.  And ultimately, we come to know our place in  the world, or as Jimmy Santiago Baca experienced it and  named it, a place to stand.

In A Place to Stand, Baca declares:
...poetry helped make me the person I am today awakening creative elements that had long lain dormant in me, opening my mind to ideas, and enabling my intellect to nourish itself on alternative ways. Poetry enhanced my self-respect.  It provided me with a path for exploring possibilities for my life’s enrichments that I follow to this day   
Our current US poet laureate, Natasha Trethewey identifies just such a place to stand in the beginning of the title poem in Native Guard.  This collection is civil war poetry, which we may not often consider lyrical and poetic. 

In telling her mother’s story and her own, however, intertwined with the stories of the Deep South where the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, were called into service during the civil war, Trethewey achieves poetic and lyrical power.

Excerpts and more about the poem can be found  by clicking here.

What do we know? 
How do we know? 
How did we come to know? 

Many would tell us that poetry is the answer to all three questions. 

Poetry affords us a way to think about our life experiences, to process the events, the
relationships, and unknowns in our lives and in the world.  

Poetry can save us in uncertain times and poetry can light a fire in our lives and in our worlds that we cannot --dare not put out.

Naomi Shihab Nye expresses our need for poetry in speaking about poetry and 9/11 in the
introduction to 19 Varieties of Gazelle:
Writers, believers in words, could not give up words when the going got rough.  I found myself, as millions did, turning to poetry.  Why should it be any surprise that people find solace in the most intimate literary genre?  Poetry slows us down, cherishes small details. A large disaster erases those details.  We need poetry for nourishment and for noticing, for the way language and imagery reach comfortably into experience, holding and connecting it more successfully than any news channel we could name.
I  found  recent wars, with the numbers and statistics and the daily  routineness of the media 

reporting became quickly  both too big and unreal.  It  became real to me only through the small 

details and the personal experiences of my friend's son. The following excerpt  is from a longer

poem I wrote about and for her.

She ate her salad calmly
and we silently remembered
how many boys had died
in the last operation.
Operation with names
like Matador and Sword

She spoke of the operation Dagger
and how her child had to fire
a machine gun
for forty eight hours
to keep his life

We did not ask questions yet.
She ate her salad
and told us how her family
had watched the special
hosted by Oliver North
that followed the LIMA unit

She hesitated between bites
and told how at the end
they showed the standing rifles
capped with the helmets
of the dead boys.
Kneeling on one knee
beside the rifle and helmet
bare head bowed
in honor of his friend
was her son.

So we use the poetry-- we read poetry, we write poetry--to name our experiences, to measure and analyze, to record and remember, to inspire and raise up, to bring to awareness, and to sing out both our deepest sorrows and gladdest celebrations. 

And poetry has the power to make us change us, nourish us and show us new possibilities, new ways to live.
June Jordan attributes agentive powers to poetry:
And so poetry is not a shopping list, a casual disquisition on the colors of the sky, a soporific daydream, or bumper sticker sloganeering.  Poetry is a political action undertaken for the sake of information, the faith, the exorcism, the lyrical invention, that telling the truth makes possible.  Poetry means taking control of the language of your life.  Good poems can interdict a suicide, rescue a love affair, and build a revolution in which speaking and listening to somebody becomes the first and last purpose to every social encounter.  Why should power and language coalesce in poetry?  Because poetry is the medium for telling the truth, and because a poem is antithetical to lies/evasions and superficiality
(Illuminations: Great Writers on Writing edited by Christina Davis and Christopher Edgar. )
And so we speak and listen to each other in poetry
And so we tell the truth with poems.  
And sometimes that truth surprises us.

Today's Deeper Writing Possiblity

 April is National Poetry Month.
Remember a time when poetry or words made you look at life, or a particular life’s event./situation/reality/relationship differently.
Are there uncertain times in which you turned to poetry—or poetry was given to you?
What are glad times when poetry was where you turned or was given to you?
Reflect on recent changes or possilibities you have been seeing, pondering or recently been introduced to in your life.

What is your truth? What truth are you coming to realize in your life?  What truth do you want to tell about your life?  

Write a poem :
  •  expressing your truth.
  •  about a time poetry saved you.
  •  about your place to stand.
  •  about what you have learned in  this life ( or a particular time in your life), how you know you know and how you came to know.
Write a poem or narrative or essay about change and new possibilities you see for your life. 

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