Thursday, June 10, 2010

writing poetry

I began a poetry class this week. Like everyone else, I wrote the requisite haiku and rhyming verse in school, but I've never made a serious attempt at writing my own poetry. I've been reading lovely books by people like Lucille Clifton, Robert Bly, Ted Kooser, Dorianne Laux, and Marie Howe. Our first assignment was to write a piece about the way that poetry came into our lives. The first poem I remember really affecting me in an emotional way is a short piece, long since committed to memory.

The Amulet

Your picture smiles as first it smiled,
The ring you gave is still the same,
Your letter tells, O changing child,
No tidings since it came.

Give me an amulet
That keeps intelligence with you
Red when you love, and rosier red,
And when you love not,
Pale and blue.

Alas, that neither bonds nor vows
Can certify possession;
Torments me still the fear that love
Died in its last expression.

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

I thought about the day I first read this poem and how I came to own the book of Emerson's poetry. It is odd what comes back to you holding an old book in your hands.

"The Early Poems of Ralph Waldo Emerson", Copyright 1900

Mother filled my late childhood
With auctions and farm sales.
She drove miles and spent long hours
Eating cheap barbeque sandwiches
While bidding a few dollars on boxes
Packed with someone else's life.

One hot June day under a Redbud,
She picked among the tables and the piles.
I dragged along bored behind her
Until I saw a box of books near the house.
They smelled of leather and age,
My idea of heaven.

In the corner, covered in brick red linen,
I saw a volume not much larger than my hand.
I was seventeen, immersed in unrequited love.
I opened the linen cover, looked on yellowed pages,
and as I read "The Amulet",
Poetry spoke to me.