Sitting at the window where I write, I’ve spent the morning eating a bowl of oatmeal, just like my grandmother used to make (with salt, butter, sugar and milk), remembering old friends, trying to count the leaves as they fall and thinking of poems that I love.
Some might question my productivity, but it’s early still. And at any rate, I’d welcome their questions. An inquiry regarding my morning would give us a chance to discuss the definition of productivity — and poetry too.
So many of us are programmed to go so fast and so far in a day that we mistake the calm and quiet that comes with thinking for indolence. That’s where we’re wrong.
Sitting there and watching falling leaves was good for my brain. Reading poetry was good for my heart.
I fell in love with poetry when I was in the sixth grade. Remember the excitement Scholastic book orders used to bring to rural towns with no other means to buy books? I do. I wasn’t able to order books every time, but in the sixth grade, I started babysitting every now and then. When book ordering time came around, I was flush. I saw a book called, “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle” in the book ordering promotional piece.
Even at 11, I loved words. I couldn’t imagine why someone would have named a book such a crazy title. I had to know and was quirky enough that I didn’t mind pairing my well-earned babysitting cashola with my love for words. So I ordered the book, which turned out to be a collection of poems. On one of the shelves somewhere in my house, I still have the paperback book, its pages crackly and yellowed. Books come easy these days. But when I first got my hands on that book, owning my very own book of poetry lifted my heart and mind.
The book was named after a poem called, “Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity,” by John Tobias. My 11-year-old self read that poem over and over again, trying to figure out its mystery. I looked up words I didn’t understand, starting with Felicity in the title. When I learned, felicity meant happiness, I felt like a detective. Suddenly, the poem leapfrogged in meaning and significance, and I got it. It was a poem written by an adult who was remembering his childhood. Here’s an excerpt:
During that summer—
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
Than the one that was–
I ordered that book right about the time the Cincinnati Reds were playing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Something about that book and the magic of that World Series reinforced something big I was figuring out. Somehow, that poem led me to savor those moments I recognized as childhood — or at least something fleeting. Not all the time, but there were definite moments that loving poetry at a young age made me appreciate the magic as it was happening more. Maybe I remember more of my own magical years when watermelons ruled because of poetry.
So I believe in sharing that gift with others — particularly kids in rural places that don’t have many opportunities to get up close and personal with poetry. That’s why I’ll spend a significant amount of time volunteering at Festival of Words in St. Landry Parish between Nov. 6 and Nov. 9. Join the fun. Festival of Words does it best to make poetry accessible for more people. They host a variety of events, including our own homegrown hero, former Louisiana Poet Laureate, the great Darrell Bourque. This year the organization is bringing in a variety of poets from all-over, including one of my personal favorites, Naomi Shihab Nye, to do workshops, readings and performances.
If you’d like to join the fun, check out the schedule at www.festivalofwords.org.