To the Poetry Lady … from Japan


The Poetry Lady received this query from a correspondent in Japan:

The poetry lady sure seems to know how to help in times of need.
So, here’s a question for her, from a fan in Japan.
My friends just don’t seem to share the poetic interests that I do. Lately I am finding myself lonely for more poetic friends. Any advice on how to go about finding them?

 Dear Fan in Japan,

Your question, which on the surface seemed easy enough to address, is complicated by the fact that you live in a culture where language … the very essence of poetry … is for you a barrier, rather than a means of connection.

You see, my standard advice to a question like yours is that to find poetic souls, go to places where poetic souls gather: Join a writers group, attend poetry readings, peruse the poetry shelves in bookstores and libraries and see who else is spending time there.

But the easy answers don’t hold in your case, because I imagine that no matter how fluent you have become in the language of your adopted country, having enough facility to understand poetry and converse about it is likely a whole different matter.

As is often the case, being forced away from the easy answer leads directly to the most honest one. That is, I believe that everyone has a poetic soul. In many of us it is covered up by our need to contend with the prose of daily life, and even by our fears of expressing and exploring the deeper emotions and existential questions that poetry brings to the surface.

So, my advice to you would be to go beyond looking for new friends who share your love of things poetic, and instead start by looking for the poetic in the friends you already have. Share a favorite line from a poem, speak of the poetic issues of the soul, carry your favorite poem in your pocket and show it to someone you care about. My prediction is that in doing so you will invite from them expressions from their poetic souls.

Let me know how your experiment turns out …

Poetically yours,

The Poetry Lady

photo by Aja Riggs

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Dear Poetry Lady …

I recently received this email from a friend, whose son is in grade school: 

Hi,

I’ve been looking for short things to read to H. at night (a tradition we still carry out) and tried out some poetry on him. I read some selected poems from Garrison Keillor’s book Good Poetry. He seems to like the accessible ones, and if they have a humorous flair, that’s even better. I was wondering if you have any suggestions of poetry books or poets that he would like that would be appropriate for his age. He really likes Shel Silverstein but I want to expose him to poetry that makes him think about things a little differently (instead of pure humor). …. What poets do your students appreciate?

O. 

Rather than answer my friend’s email right away, I first had to sit and ponder the joy of her missive! In it I sensed the promise of a whole new genre of advice columns. Imagine: The Dear Abby of Poetry! The Miss Lonely Hearts of Verse! A trusted bibliophile everyday people could write to with their tales of poetic woe. I can see it now:

Dear Poetry Lady,

After years of searching I finally found the woman of my dreams. On her birthday, I wrote her a poem, believing that words from the heart are more valuable than any bauble I could purchase with cold cash. But rather than swoon, she frowned and asked if I was kidding! Can this relationship be saved? 

Dear Poetry Lady,

I’ve published two chapbooks of poetry, and have had a poem accepted to the New Yorker. Sounds like the life every poet dreams of, right? But I have a deep dark secret and I live in fear of having it exposed: I don’t know what iambic pentameter is and I’ve never written a sonnet in my life … What’s a fraud like me to do? 

Dear Poetry Lady,

My mother-in-law writes bawdy limericks and insists on reading them to my four-year-old whenever she baby sits. I work full-time and can’t afford to hire a nanny — but I don’t want my child to be exposed to such inappropriate nap-time reading either! What’s a working mother to do? 

In the meantime, I guess I’d better get back to my friend’s email. Once I compose a list for her, perhaps I’ll post it here. And I’ll keep waiting for those plaintive pleas for poetic advice to appear in my inbox!