My love/hate relationship with poetry

I have had a love/hate relationship with poetry since I was a child.

I remember a collection of poems by Eugene Field that rocked my world when I was around nine years old.

I have no idea where I got it but I remember curling up in the corner of my twin bed with my stuffed animals all around me reading every poem over and over again.

The Duel made me laugh out loud and I shared it with anyone who would listen. 

Eugene Field rocked my world.  (Wikipedia Commons)
Eugene Field rocked my world. (Wikipedia Commons)

I cried my heart out for The Little Boy Blue and his poor, poor friends who waited for him. 

I was a lonely kid in a lot of ways and my concentration was shoddy but, for some reason, poetry was able to get through and sink into my psyche in a way that nothing else could.

So, as I began to define myself, I made poetry a part of that definition.

I devoured all the greats and memorized the ones that spoke to me. I began to write my own and I became a part of the “scene.”

I guess that’s where the hate part of my relationship with poetry began to develop.

The scene, at the time and in my humble opinion, consisted of big egos, bullshit and bad writing.

I had no self-esteem whatsoever and I found that I couldn’t bring myself to share my work without choking.  As a result, others would read my poems aloud while I hid in the back of the house.

I was well received and invited to many events where my work was shared along with the work of several others.

Most of it (including mine) was awful but that didn’t stop folks from wearing long white robes and walking around like their very poetic essence was shimmering gold.

Eventually, the egos and anxiety wore me down and I went back to the quiet sanctuary of my solitude.

Kim Jensen
Kim Jensen

The thing about poetry, and anything else we try to create, is that there are very few masterpieces and the only way to get to a masterpiece is to filter out dozens, if not thousands, of failed attempts.

If you go to a poetry reading, the chances are good that you will listen to a lot of self-indulgent, ego driven drivel; a handful of clever-but-pointless arrangements; at least one rape poem; and, a few political rants.

It’s no wonder so many people shudder when faced with the prospect of having to go to an open reading.

Most of the stuff we wade through as we try to write should stay in our notebooks or our diaries.

But, we have to keep doing it as we learn to listen and to shape our words in a way that others might hear.

And, if you go to enough readings and listen carefully, you occasionally stumble upon a poem or a poet that speaks directly to you in a way that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand on end.

It’s those that make all the others seem worthwhile.

When I moved to Baltimore I found a group of people who were working together to find and to write great poetry but, in true Baltimore fashion, they did it without all the superficial stuff and ego that made my skin crawl in DC.

And so the love affair continues. But so does the bad poetry so it isn’t an easy affair at all.

That’s why, when my friend, Kim Jensen, wrote to me a few weeks ago and asked me to review her newly published book of poetry I seized up with panic.

This is my friend and of course I want to support her but the odds were good that her poetry was not going to connect with me and I would be stuck in the most awkward of positions.

only-thing-240I stalled, I hemmed, I hawed and finally I agreed.

She sent the book, The Only Thing that Matters, which I sat down reluctantly to groan through but I found that there was a lyrical quality to her writing that made it easy to move from one page to another.

I found there was a narrative that I could follow from poem to poem and that the narrative was a touching story of love.

I heard the voice of a lover in a strange land – a girl come woman taking in the sins of this “mindblown egg of an imitation planet” – a revolutionary in embryo – a passionate mother- and a person, just like me, who is trying to make sense of it all.

With a smart sweetness Kim reminds us to pay attention – to speak out – to love and to wonder. Here is one of my favorite parts:

Longtime it was I noticed the hole in your heart where I used to find home.

Longtime it went on. Mountains were crossed. Children came in and out.

Their questions were beautiful and familiar:

Why does the moon keep running away from us?

Where do birds go when it rains?

Who made my toes?

Everyone’s tastes are different but from where I sit The Only Thing that Matters, by Kim Jensen is lovely. I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to reflect, to enjoy the dance of words or to think about the world as it is or as it could be.