Living · Reading

A Poem A Day

National Poetry Month rolls around once every year, and some years it slips by without my notice amid the bustle of an academic spring. I try to remember Poem in My Pocket Day (April 18 this year!) because I adore the idea of carrying words of power with me in my pocket, like a spell that no one suspects I bear. I usually enlist my daughter in this happy conspiracy, and we have had wonderful, serendipitous moments like her having the poem in her pocket that a teacher referred to and she shouted out, “Hey! That’s in my pocket!” to the amazement of her teacher and the annoyance of her gobsmacked peers.

This year I’m celebrating by posting a poem every day of April on my choice of social media. (It’s Facebook. I’m old). But I’m excited because it feels like taking part in the same magic mojo of Advent or a gratitude journal–a small, lovely thing that builds toward something substantial and rewarding.

I know it’s small. But it’s really also lovely. I promise.

It means I have to think of thirty poems. The first couple I pull right out of my head. They’re short. I own them. I have swallowed them like Zeus swallowed Metis—whole, so they can still advise me. I carry them everywhere.

Some poems I associate so strongly with people, that I can’t think of or read the poem without an accompanying memory of the person. E.A. Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy” is the first poem I remember my dad reading to me. He was extolling the virtues of a set of books he’d owned as a child and was passing on to me, and he proved their worth by plucking “Miniver Cheevy” out of the pages like a flower, reading it aloud, holding it up to the light for me to look at.

How much happened in that moment for me is hard to gauge. It may have been the first time a poem was presented to me like a gem. Was it the first time I thought about someone being so enchanted by the past? The image of Miniver dreaming while drinking certainly stuck with me. It is a tragic poem, but an incredibly evocative image.

Some poems are locked in my memory as emblematic of a certain time in my life. I know it’s cheesy, but Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” is probably the first grown up poem I memorized, and it’s absolutely due to my watching of the movie The Outsiders in about 1984 on HBO. I can see 12 or 13-year old me on the couch in the family room thinking to myself, “something big just happened there.” So I memorized it and kept it with me. I vowed to stay golden, like Ponyboy, but not by dying young. I started looking at flowers as something with an expiration. I let it change me.

35 years later, many, many more poems have changed me.

Because some poems are like people. Once you encounter them, they offer you a new perspective you never considered. They open up a window on the world that you hadn’t had access to before. Some friends have introduced me to Buddhism and homemade tamales. Some poems have introduced me to reincarnation and sugarplums.

So in anticipation of when I run out of poems in my head, the commitment to produce a beloved poem a day is an occasion to sift through books of poetry looking for treasure. I know the internet exists, but I prefer to start with books. So I’ve just set myself a reading assignment. Part of me thinks I may go beyond the month. Probably I’ll let myself slip back into the mundane world where my daily responsibilities outweigh my self-indulgent word-love, but one can always, always hope.

Poetic Poppies for attention.