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I’ve recently experienced a loss in my family, and I notice that I’m having a lot of difficulty reading full length novels. It’s hard for me to concentrate for longer stretches of time, and I find myself having to re-read passages to piece together how characters connect or how plot is progressing. I’ve left a lot of books abandoned this month—sad piles with bookmarks at page 180, page 50, even page 10. These temporarily under-appreciated books are ones I will come back to, but not now. Fortunately, this grief-induced attention deficit has led me to dust off my books of poetry.
Funny, we don’t talk a lot about what poets we’re reading or whose latest book of verse is scheduled to be published this fall. As a librarian, I rarely get asked for suggestions of particular poetry books—maybe for a good love poem or the source of a familiar first line. Poetry is either seen as something relegated to academic settings or to the 2 minute Writer’s Almanac segment on National Public Radio. So, imagine the familiar piano strain behind Garrison Keillor’s voice and indulge me while I share some poetry.
Wendell Berry has been a favorite poet of mine for years, and I’m so excited about his visit to Tulsa to receive the 2012 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award. His poetry is perfect reading for dark days—a balm for your soul. Just a couple of lines from one of my favorites “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry :
I come into the peace of wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief. I come into the presence of still water. / And I feel above me the day-blind stars / waiting with their light. For a time / I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I’ve also enjoyed rereading Berry’s collection A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems. Berry explains that these poems were “written in silence, in solitude, mainly out of doors.” They are the reading equivalent of walking a labyrinth or practicing yoga, and I suspect that if someone were to monitor vital signs while you read these poems, your heart rate would be a little slower, your blood pressure a little lower, your breathing a little deeper. Here’s a small selection from one of these Sabbath poems:
Another Sunday morning comes, / and I resume the Sabbath / Of the woods, where the finest blooms / Of time return, and where no path / Is worn but wears its makers out / At last, and disappears in leaves / Of fallen seasons. The tracked rut / Fills and levels; here nothing grieves / In the risen season. Past life / Lives in the living.
Berry’s poems are reflective, quiet, and meditative. They encourage silences and a slower pace. Of course we experience poetry differently when read aloud, which is why I’m looking forward to the next Novel Talk program: A Place on Earth Readings and Responses to Wendell Berry. In addition to poems, readers will present from his prose and essays as well. I hope you will join us at Central Library on Tuesday, November 13. In the meantime, dust off those old poetry books of yours. I think you will find rereading them to be an even richer experience.