The late great Ray Bradbury once said that a writer should read one poem, one short story and one essay every day. Most of us don’t read many short stories any more, but we read a lot of essays (often in the form of blogs).
Poetry is like the superfood of writing education. Reading it daily is one of the best possible things any writer of any ilk can do to improve the quality and precision of her work. We shy away from it sometimes, sure we can’t find poems that will hold meaning for us in the modern world, but believe me, there is a poem for every moment, every project, every mood and idea you’ve ever thought of.[pullquote]Poetry is good words, good phrases, like vitamins A and C and E, like minerals for your paragraphs.[/pullquote]
I’ve been on a kick of memorizing poetry. I happened to hear Mary Oliver on a podcast, talking about her work, and she read a few of my favorite poems. I stood in the garden, listening, starstruck, and thought, I need to have these poems in my head all the time.
So I started memorizing them. I began with Wild Geese, which is an exhortation to look outward, upward, let go of your loneliness and shame and breathe in the life all around you. “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles, repenting,” she says. And, “No matter who you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination. It calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting.” Read the entire poem here.
Who doesn’t recognize some piece of those emotions? We’ve all felt shame, and loneliness, and felt apart from things. In these few short lines, the shame is brushed aside, the loneliness and despair embraced, and we fly free with the wild geese “who are on their way home again.”
Such economy of language! Such a wise, understanding voice! [Read more…]