Poetry as Sustenance

 It seems that poetry reading has become a ritual that “bookends” my day.    In the morning, I have been threading my way through the bible’s best poetry, the book of Psalms.   A while back, I heard or read that Becca Stevens  was reading the Psalms each morning.  Or was it Krista Tippett ?   At any rate, Stevens and Tippett are two wise, wonder filled writers.   So I thought if I did the same, I might capture a bit of their wisdom for myself.  The Psalms are so emotionally inclusive that they address my every mood from bitter anger and despair to exultant praise.    Some mornings when the Psalms seem too intense, I will slip into Rumi’s world or Kay Ryan’s matter of fact poetry.  In the evenings, I have lately been drifting off to Mary Oliver.  Her observations and simple, succinct style leave me spellbound.  Yet, she gently leads me to great truths and the deep wisdom that is found in her quiet observations.  Her poems are my dessert for the day.   I mark my favorites with hearts and hope they will seep into my dreams.

I wonder where this recent penchant for poetry started.  I know that my mother and grandmother were lovers of poetry.  I remember each of them being able to recite little ditties to my sisters and me as children.  My mother treasured her copy of Leaves of Gold,  a compilation of poetry, essays, and quotes from “the best authors of the world both ancient and modern.”    I have memories of Mom taking her leather bound copy off the shelf and fingering the pages until she found just the right passage to use in a letter of condolence.  Shortly after my mother passed away, my younger sister found a journal that I had given Mom.  The journal was stuffed with the words of others…mostly poets.  Reading her bundled trove of poetry gave me comfort and a closeness that I desperately missed.

While my love of poetry might be rooted in my maternal lineage, it now provides a certain sustenance that I need as much as air and nourishment.  The news and social media can jangle my nerves lately.  It is a physical agitation that often happens when I click on a link, listen to the radio, or watch the news.   On the other hand, poetry soothes my soul and seems to put things in perspective.  It provides a moment to step away and quietly ponder the thoughtful observations of another.   Reading a poem is like throwing a small stone into a quiet pool.  The ripples widen out slowly until the still surface offers me a glimpse of myself and a new understanding.   I only have to be willing to look and sometimes wait for the stillness. 

I recently discovered poet and teacher, Marilyn Nelson in a podcast.  Her poem, “Thirteen Year Old American Negro Girl” was one of those poems that spoke to a deep part of me.  It was in Nelson’s reading that I heard so much of myself.   Even though our experiences are worlds apart, her poem offered me an insight into my own longings to write.   Nelson’s poetry has a way of sneaking into me quietly, unobtrusively, but packing a powerful gut wrenching punch of realization…often leaving me without words only feelings.   Nelson’s poem “Bedside Reading”  and “A Wreath for Emmett Till” packed just such a punch. 

Poetry, in fact all art, is sustenance available to all of us.  It can tear down our walls, connect us, and enrich us more than anything one could claim or purchase.   The connections found in art deepen us and broaden us by blurring our edges in a commonality of spirit.   It may not bridge all our divides nor cure what ails us, but it might be a way to heal some of the dis-ease so many seem to be feeling these days.  I know it does for me.