I subscribe to a service from the Academy of American Poets that sends a new poem to my inbox every morning. I admire the stacked-book “spine poems” submitted to 100 Scope Notes and fool around making some of my own.
I like National Poetry Month because it reminds me to spend time with poems, and my attitude towards spending time with poems is like my attitude towards baking bread: I hardly ever get it together to do it, but I’m almost always glad I did.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a period in my life (as my son likes to remind me) when I baked bread every week. And there was a period in my life when I read and wrote poems all the time.
My first stabs at writing were poems.
When I was in elementary school, our family lived in Paris for a few years. My fourth-grade classroom had a miniature printing press. My teacher used it to produce beautiful copies of two poems I had written. One of them started, “La petite etoile est tous soignée, tous peignée” – the little star is all cleaned, all combed… I found the poem years later and couldn’t understand my own French.
When the Six Day War broke out, in 1967, we were back in the States. I was 10. Moved by accounts of my cousins in Jerusalem taking refuge in bomb shelters, I wrote a poem. My mother sent it to her cousin, who got it published in the Jerusalem Post, where he worked. All I remember of it is that it ended with someone telling my cousin Noa that God was with her. The last line was, “In that case, said Noa, I’m no longer afraid.”
One of the best gifts I got for my bat mitzvah was a set of blank books with pretty hand-printed cloth covers. They sat on the shelf in my room until I went away from college, inviting me to fill them with wonderful words. I found them just now, in a box of old letters. The beautiful covers must have intimidated me. I only ended up writing in one of them.
It contains 85 poems (I numbered them) I wrote between the ages of 12 and 16. Most are pseudo-psychedelic romanticism (“Warm weather is inside you / Sunshine is in your head”). A few whine about my on-again-off-again high school boyfriend, who often seemed to care more about his Triumph Spitfire and his fancy sound-system than me (“It is sad to watch / as he walks with the dead / worships the unbreathing / things like chrome and steel / engines / motors / precise gears and valves”). One poem consists of the single, rhymed couplet,“Your 500-watt amps / aren’t helping my cramps.”
Since college, I’ve written prose almost exclusively, maybe because I realized I’m a lot better at it. The fact is, I don’t understand a lot of the poetry I read. So how can I write it? Still, there are times when I’m moved to write about something, and only a poem will do. I keep these efforts (which number far fewer than 85) in one slim folder.
You can click here to read one I wrote about 10 years ago, for Passover.
And here’s a much lighter one from two years ago, when I was still trying to find someone to represent my novel. It’s supposed to be a villanelle, but I can’t vouch that it fits the form perfectly. It’s called Dear Agent. It still suits my mood. But now I would title it, Dear Editor.