May Day – A Recommendation

Phillis Levin is my Muse.

Many poets have issued that title on a woman. “She is my muse.” This woman they talk of is beautiful, elegant, they are no doubt in love with her, and equate inspiration to write poetry, happy or sad, about her, to ‘Muse’.

Phillis Levin is my Muse, in the purest sense.

When I starting down this path of creativity, of writing, poetry, of using word as art (ART?) it was a journey that started in the dark (yes, I mean high school). Writings were scribblings in the corners of notebooks, they were mimics of Latin poets, and ‘experimental’ things, which later turned out to be not that ‘experimental’. But this is a part of the poet’s journey, as it is a part of any journey. This part is the beginning.

Then came college, and writing courses, and this strange, but new idea of reading other poets. This idea is a strange one to understand why it is a NEW THING.

A book, Afterimage, was handed to me, by a Ms Phillis Levin.

I read the book twice that night. Three more times in the week that followed. Some where in there I found inspiration.

It was not that I wanted to write like her, or I wanted to follow her journey. Instead what she gave me was the light in the darkness, the direction to start my own journey. I wanted to be that good, and for the first time realized that a bit of work, of tears and cramped hands, that there was more to be done with myself, than simply writing what I had been.

This was her inspiration to me, to start my journey, to take my writing seriously, to turn it into a declaration: “I write.” She is my muse in the purest sense, for I saw her as art, as poetry, as the personification of this undefinable thing I had set off to find.

Her new book is out (alas, the older ones are harder to find, but if you can get them, please do). It is called “May Day” and worth every inch of your bookshelf it will take, of every moment of your life you will read it, of every word that is on the inside leaving the page and haunting you in those moments before you sleep.

Edit: Garrison Kellior’s Writer Almanac has May Day posted, 26 September, 2008

Poetry on a Pedestal

At some point in your past one of your teachers dragged a large pedestal out into the middle of the classroom. She then stood on it, complete with royal music and halo-esque light and said “We shall now read from this sacred book of poetry.” From then on, you have this view that poetry is something complicated, something off, something that has to be studied.

Poetry is not something to be hidden away; to be enjoyed by a select few that sit in hardwood offices, drink Lattes and read poetry because they ‘get it’. There is nothing to get. Poetry is language, it is words, it is sound and rhythm, if you speak you can read poetry, if you breath you can understand it.

Those fancy terms you learned in English class: alliteration, metaphor, assonance, hyperbole, etc, they are about style, about form, they are about structure. They are not, however, part of ‘liking’ or ‘getting’ poetry. You can be able to dissect a poem down to each literary device used, to the symbolism, even to the etymology of the chosen words. These things will help you APPRECIATE a poem. But liking it? That is something different.

Read it. Try it out loud. Listen to it. You will like the poem or you won’t.

Does that make these literary devices useless? No. They are still the tools of the trade, the blocks that constructs poems. However, the poet does not (usually) sit and say “In this verse I shall insert a metaphor and precisely four occurances of alliteration.” The poet is writing, picking what they like, taking away what they don’t. Dissection is not a part of the creative proccess (again, usually), so don’t think it is a part of the reading process.

So go, read a poem.