This morning, I am folding laundry, grumbling and mumbling to myself about this never-ending task. In the rhythm of the chore, I remember a poem. My mind wanders, I sort, I remember, I fold, and on and on:
It’s one of the first poems that I ever memorized, and one of the only ones that I have memorized that I can still recite. A strange choice for a fifth grader, I’m sure, but there you go. I loved the simplicity, the rhythm, the meaning, the notion that you could say so much with twelve words (thirteen syllables). And, I loved that I knew the poet.
Henry Taylor lived in my town—“town” being a very loose term since we lived in farm country on dirt roads, spread out. More accurately, we lived in the same area, the same part of the county, identified ourselves as “from Lincoln,” a lovely Quaker village and its surrounding lands: cows, hills, barns, streams, you get the idea.
Anyway, Henry Taylor was my parents’ age, his youngest son and I were the about the same age, and our lives overlapped in many ways—Lincoln Elementary plays and events; the Browns’ Christmas party; Saturday soccer games; Janney’s, the general store.
Around the time that I declared that I wanted to be a poet, Henry won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection, The Flying Change. A few years later, mom gave me a copy for my birthday—my first book of poetry written for grown-ups. He inscribed it; I cherished it.
For a school assignment, I was given the task of researching a profession. I knew just the person to interview. The Taylors lived in a gorgeous, spacious, light-filled old home set on acres of farmland. I sat on a couch in their living room, the ceilings so far above my head I felt like I was in church. Made nervous by the formality of the situation—he was no longer the father of my friend, but the poet and professor, the prize winner—I read my scripted questions and carefully transcribed his responses. He was friendly and generous, thoughtful and intelligent, patient with my earnest inquiries. Later, I wrote up my findings: an 11”x17” blue construction paper folded into a booklet with prescribed categories of research (education, responsibilities, salary) that just didn’t seem to capture the magic and power that I knew could be contained in twelve words (thirteen syllables).
For a while, I continued to read and write poetry and imagine myself a poet. But, eventually, I stopped. Not the reading, but the writing. I didn’t think I was any good, didn’t think I had anything to say—or at least, I didn’t know how to use the words, the forms, the elements of poetry to say what I wanted to say. And it’s always felt like a let down, like I let myself down by letting go of that aspect of myself.
Now, I am teaching students who are the same age as my poet-dreaming self and I want to give them the love of poetry that I had. We have been reading and talking poetry since August, a thread woven through the year. We’ve written a bit, too. Some of the students have taken it up in their own writing (one is creating a novel in verse, another pens topsy-turvy, explosive lines about everything in his mind). With National Poetry Month on the horizon, we are going to immerse ourselves in the poetry of others (reading, listening, watching) and the poetry in ourselves. I want them to have the opportunity to see themselves as poets, to know that they have the words and that they have something to say. So, I am working on remembering my eleven-year-old poetself, rekindling my belief in myself as a poet. I am writing poems. And I am letting go: this time, of the ideas that got in the way so long ago.
Perhaps, if I can continue to see poetry in folding laundry, I, too, can create the magic and power that can be contained in twelve words (thirteen syllables). Only one way to find out.