"My poems are my children"

It was ten years ago, in April of 1996, that I found myself in a bookstore in the town of Lexington, Virginia. It was (as April always is) National Poetry Month, and the bookstore had some free postcards with singular lines from poems to celebrate the occasion. I devoured them, and many of those lines stay with me to this day –

“I want to tell you what the forests were like.
I shall have to speak in a forgotten language.”
(W.S. Merwin)

and this one which is particularly haunting:

“Night beside me, I turn from her toward day / Cloyed with the stillness of our common clay / and twitted by the birds in the morning / for not delighting in their brightened grey.”

Trouble is, I don’t remember who wrote that last one. And there was another one that I cannot quite remember, I’m sure I don’t have the words right, but it went something like this:

“My poems are my children / and I never laid a hand on them / not even when their crying kept me up in the night.”

It is those singular lines from poems that I carry with me. Joseph Brodsky describes poetry as “accelerated thinking”, but I think of poetry as a sort of talisman – all these lines from poems that I carry with me to bring intensity or the right kind of clarity or light to a given moment. Marina Tsvetaeva has a line that is meant to be critical but describes for me the role of poetry – “where inspiration is kept as though in a thermos!” What a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

3 Responses to “"My poems are my children"”

  1. Anne Says:

    That last one you had on your typewriter! It was the first place I read it, though I’ve read it other places since, including in a poetry class. I remember the other one too, but of course neither author comes to mind. The middle one sounds a lot like Hardy, and the latter… argh. It will come to me. If you have the files from the typewriter, it’s there.

    I admire your ability to keep reading poetry. I find myself not spending as much time on it now that I’m absorbed in other things. Maintaining attention is an act of worship, and I admire your reverence.

    Here’s a poem by David Whyte.

    Self-Portrait

    It doesn’t interest me if there is one God
    or many gods.
    I want to know if you belong or feel
    abandoned.
    If you know despair or can see it in others.
    I want to know
    if you are prepared to live in the world
    with its harsh need
    to change you. If you can look back
    with firm eyes
    saying this is where I stand. I want to know
    if you know
    how to melt into that fierce heat of living
    falling toward
    the center of your longing. I want to know
    if you are willing
    to live, day by day, with the consequence of love
    and the bitter
    unwanted passion of your sure defeat.

    I have been told, in that fierce embrace, even
    the gods speak of God.

    -David Whyte

  2. Michael Says:

    Nicco:
    Now that I know you are interested in poetry and you are often on the go but on your computer, I thought you might enjoy visiting http://www.poetryvlog.com for a weekly poetry fix.
    Sincerely,
    Michael

  3. Wednesday Poem Club: Si Tu Me Olvidas | jessicaslavin Says:

    […] Pablo Neruda’s Si Tu Me Olvidas. (My poem-memorizing project is inspired, remember, by Nicco Mele’s similar […]

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