Valentine’s Day Week In Poetry

Photo by Aja Riggs

Monday … for Valentine’s day the students in my morning class wrote love poems … or at least poems to our loved ones. We read some of Pablo Neruda’s poems from his lovely, slim volume: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Neruda’s poems draw on images of the sea and nature. I warned my students that the danger of writing love poems is the danger of falling into cliché. I encouraged them to draw on images from their environment and to write to their lovers or loved ones using original language and metaphor. Still jazzed from last week’s exercise of combining unusual words to make unique pairings, my students were ready for the task. E., who has been reluctant until now to stray far from the grade school notion of poetry that is filled with roses and rhymes, described her lover’s “criminal eyes.” Another of my student poets compared her boyfriend to “a bird who flies off every winter to someplace unsafe.” A marvelous and mysterious turn of phrase. Hallmark’s got nothing on these girls.

Tuesday … I’m writing an article on assignment, and lucky me: I was sent to interview a poet, Ellen Dore Watson. During our conversation we tried to come up with what it is about poetry that keeps this art form not only alive in this age of racing technology, but also relevant. We discussed why it was that after 9/11, for example, people turned to poetry as if they were literally starved for it. Though not as useful as prose on a day-to-day basis, we agreed that poetry is somehow essential. “It’s like a lot of things,” Ellen said of poems. “You don’t know you need them till you need them.”

Wednesday there were no poetry classes because we had a snow day. Despite all my best laid plans to use this gift of time to tidy my home office, catch up on paper work and maybe even write a poem or two, I spent the entire day on the couch sipping tea and reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I came across this lovely passage written about knowledge she gained from a traditional medicine man in Bali:

“The child is taught from earliest consciousness that she has these four brothers with her in the world wherever she goes, and that they will always look after her. The brothers inhabit the four virtues a person needs in order to be safe and happy in life: intelligence, friendship, strength and (I love this one) poetry. The brothers can be called upon in any critical situation for rescue and assistance. When you die, your four spirit brothers collect your soul and bring you to heaven … “

Thursday: Valentine’s day is the day for poetry; it is the one day a year we celebrate sentiment. I heard former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser on NPR saying something like that. He apparently used to send Valentine poems out to a list of 2,000 women. A Valentine poem, according to his definition, could be about anything with red in it. One poem, for example, was about a red potato. That lack of sentimental sentiment appealed to me. Besides, what’s not to love about a potato?

Friday: Poetry got a day off. It needed a rest after all that attention on Thursday. And so did I.

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