Confession: I find poetry intimidating.  What makes this incredible is that I never – not even as a twenty-two year old law student – found archaic statutes the least bit scary.  Maybe it is because poetry is art, which conjures up memories of standing before a postmodern art exhibit in Vancouver, BC, consisting of a stack of school lunch trays and being expected to “get” the artist’s intent and message.  (I didn’t, nor did my father; we escaped the museum to the more the comfortable landscape of a bookstore.)

April is National Poetry Month, a time when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets celebrate poetry and its place in American culture.  Perhaps because of this, I’m thinking about poetry more and more.

As a writer, I’m fascinated by the way poets view the world and how this is expressed in their writing.  Michael Ondaatje, author of THE ENGLISH PATIENT, began as a poet, and it’s not hard to see poetry’s influence on his use of language in that novel.  In a scene near the beginning of the book, nurse Hana feeds the English patient fruit, which Ondaatje describes:  “She unskins the plum with her teeth, withdraws the stone and passes the flesh of the fruit into his mouth.”

The beauty and sensuality of this sentence bears repeating: “She unskins the plum with her teeth, withdraws the stone and passes the flesh of the fruit into his mouth.”

Tell me you’re not breathless and desiring of a plum right now!

One of my favorite authors, Leslie Marmon Silko, stated that she read the poems of Emily Dickinson before bed each night while writing her latest novel.  The practice of reading poetry before bed is one I intend to incorporate into my life.  While I may not totally get some of the poems I read, my hope is that the infusion of the way poets describe the world infuses with my own writing, creating more artful and beautiful prose.

 

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