I walked out of this week’s final poetry class grateful for making myself go — in spite of my way too full cup of life right now.
The hour and a half with poet Nathan Brown slipped away too quick. But always, always, when time came to part company, I walked away lighter in spirit, like when walking out of a darkened movie theater into bright light, after experiencing a really good story. The world seemed a friendlier place after class. Not only bright and beautiful, but with its glory less hidden. Even now, this lovely contentment lingers with me.
After my second class, I recall carrying this hard-to-nail-down feeling through the aisles of the grocery store and still later, in my drive home past miles of ugly marquee signs seeking to steal attention from the wondrous world around it: “CASH AMERICA PAWN.” “TOO TRUE TATTOO.” “JERSEY MIKES.” “PIRATE’S ALLEY” “ARBY’S” “WALGREEN.” This sky graffiti became poetry — letters rather than litter — it served only to spotlight the chirping of birds and tree limbs waving in the whipping Oklahoma wind and the sparkling blue sky that held it all.
Later, in writing about that second class, I struggled to name the source of my contentment; What was it about that poetry class which lingered with me? I wondered over the mystery for the rest of the day, even while waiting for sleep in a darkened room, as the streets outside my window grew strangely still and silent. I fell asleep without reaching a response. But it was good sleep, peaceful, in spite of many things whirling in my mind relating to our upcoming move.
While I didn’t wake with an answer, an answer of sorts has grown in the intervening weeks. Because as I sit here, I’m ready to name my feeling as just joy — simple and pure joy radiating out of a trembling, awakened soul. At the deepest levels, I was touched by the thoughts and experiences of others; not only my poetry professor but the poets whose work he recited in class. Martin Espada. Sinan Antoon. Adam Zagajewki. Billy Collins. William Wordsworth. W. H. Auden.
But it wasn’t just listening to recitations and calling it ‘good.’ Rather, it was more like a conversation of souls — in that their personal truth became my own. Their sharing nourished my own impoverished spirit. And the experience left me feeling enlarged. No longer alone.
There are some reading this, those who know me best, that would say, “You’re not alone. You live with a husband, a son and three canines. And aren’t you surrounded by a loving family of three other children and their families and your sister and aunt and your Shawnee family and your brother in Dallas? And what about that aunt and those cousins in Utah and second cousins in Vermont you’ve never met?
And the list of people I share life with ripples out and away from me, in endless waves of emotion.
So when I confess myself alone, it’s less a physical state than spiritual – it is more like how I feel standing alone at a big party, holding up the walls of a room crowded with small-talk conversing people — I am a solitary soul seeking communion, longing for an intimacy that no one else is interested in having.
The events in our life that should unite us often don’t. We are scared away by those coping with a scary medical diagnosis. For example. The loss of loved ones — or even our own lives — are topics not often broached. And then, there are parts of us that die everyday for lack of nourishment — because what’s important doesn’t get shared. And what goes unshared is joy still born, one that cannot grow into an abiding sense that all will be well — in spite of evidence to the contrary.
What I’ll carry with me from attending class is a new definition of poetry, one less about form than substance — one less about meter and rhyming of lines — and more about words that breathe common experience causing two souls to become if not one, at least a little more whole for the sharing. And for this I’m grateful.