I gave two poetry readings in May, one in Kalamazoo, Michigan and one here in Wheaton, Illinois. Both were held out of doors, because the weather is beautiful and allows for it. To me, it was wonderful to be able to play flute with the wind blowing through my hair and perform my poetry with red-winged blackbirds singing their nesting songs as my jazz musicians — and later to be compared to a dryad!
In Michigan, I read for medievalists at the International Congress on Medieval Studies, and so I tried to choose poems that medievalists would like. In Illinois, I read for 4th and 5th girls graduating from this year’s Church of the Rez Sunday school class — and their parents — at an afternoon party featuring a May-pole for the girls to dance around with ribbons in their hands. I tried to find poems they would like, too. Naturally some of these came from MAGICAL POEMS FOR GIRLS, for both audiences, because that sonnet collection is full of fairy-tales, medieval fantasies, and stories about the lives of victorious queens.
I’ve been reading poetry by others as well, silently and joyfully and curiously to myself, especially from a recent issue of American Poet (the journal of the Academy of American Poets) and a collection of thoughts about poetry by Edward Hirsch called Poet’s Choice, which was the title of the column he wrote for the Washington Post Book World in 2002. I love what Hirsch writes about about the 19th century English poet John Clare, about “a language that is ever green” (as Clare wrote) and about love poems voiced as invitations:
We’ll down the green meadow and up the lone glen
And down the woodside far away from all men
And there we’ll talk over our love-tales again
Where last year the nightingale sung.
It’s a beautiful meditation, Clare’s is, and Hirsch’s on it is, too. Hirsch observes, drawing on a biography about Clare by Jonathan Bate, that more than fifty of Clare’s poems begin with the words “I love,” and the most common noun in his mature poetry is “joy.” What do these two facts tell us?
Something essential, something vital, something about the heart and life and the beauty of the natural world.
Clare loved to walk in through woods and fields, but he also spent time in an asylum due to mental illness, suffering through what Hirsch calls “the tormented years.” Yet the eyes of his heart were looking upward, so his meditations were still on love and on joy. Perhaps when we read Clare’s poetry, we can say in the words of e.e. cummings:
“now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened”