Every new year I resolve to read more poetry, and every year I fail. Why is that? Like so many people, I didn’t read poems as a child, not good ones anyway, even as I devoured prose with a manic, indiscriminate appetite. I loved a story, a story that held me in its world for pages and pages, hours and hours, and poems seemed both too brief and too hard. So I never developed a poetry habit, even as my love of the blunt, heart-stopping noun perfectly chosen, of a filagreed phrase laid atop a sturdy sentence, of the mysterious, simultaneous stirring of senses and soul that no amount of literary analysis can pin down–even as my love of words deepend and widened and became my life’s work.
And plot is so hard for me (have I said this before?) And I will follow a novelist whose voice I love anywhere, no matter how flimsy or preposterous the narative. So why don’t I read more poetry? As my character Cody likes to say, In this life, there are many mysteries.
Recently I’ve asked myself the question with renewed irritation, as I’ve been loving–swooning for–the new collection by Joyce Sidman. Sidman does children the rare favor of absolutely zero condescenion. I’ve seen debates over what age her new collection, “What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings” is for, and the answer of course is all ages. The book made me wish I was still running my library program Afterschool Authors. What second grader wouldn’t want to try her own hand at a poem titled “A List of Things That Will Set You Free”? What fifth grader wouldn’t dig into writing his own “Invitation to Lost Things”?
What adolescent wouldn’t clutch close “Heartless”, whose first lines read. “You don’t want my heart?/ Fine. I will climb a hill/ where the sky is wide./The sun will be setting/ and the wet grass will drag at my feet./ I will crouch there/ as darkness wraps me in its arms,/and watch the lights wink on below:/ highways, bridges, stars,/places I’ll go without you.”
Which of us who’ve grieved the worst kind of loss wouldn’t catch our breaths at the end of “Riding a Bike at Night”, a poem about losing your way, your destination and its landmarks: “You will never find it/with flashlight and map./You must simply plunge,/whirring,/ into the dark.”
Sidman’s homage to the cat praises how he is “willing to purr or leap”. Thus these poems. which have renewed my annual resolution, and given me hope I’ll fulfill it this year. Maybe I’ll do my own chant or conjure my own charm, just to make sure.
Sidman has a beautiful website, where she posts photos she takes on rambles around her New England countryside. Treat yourself at www.joycesidman.com
This week Alice Munro, via her daughter, accepted the Nobel Prize. I still feel as if a close, intimate friend won it. I am thinking of a line from one of her stories, where a woman describes how hard it is, midst the demands a wife and mother and friend faces every day, to do what she calls her “real work”. This work she defines as “a sort of wooing of distant parts of myself”. Yes.