Today’s poem, another new poem from an old favorite, is a counterpoint to yesterday’s poem. Instead of two people learning how to communicate, these two, grandmother and granddaughter, hold their feelings inside. They deny the love they feel for each other and the connection between them, missing, perhaps deliberately, the coded messages in our common parlance. One wishes to strengthen their bond; the other is afraid of losing it: “neither of them ever/said what they meant” (ll. 16-17). Did they understand each other anyway? Do we understand each other?
One of my students chose “The Telephone” by Robert Frost for her poetry book. It is new to me, and I love discovering new poems by old favorites. This poem is both touching and inspirational. The beauty of the flower and the (super)natural communication between the two seems both innocent and pure. We could use more of that these days. Here’s the poem in its entirety:
“When I was just as far as I could walk From here to-day, There was an hour All still When leaning with my head against a flower I heard you talk. Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you say— You spoke from that flower on the window sill— Do you remember what it was you said?”
“First tell me what it was you thought you heard.”
“Having found the flower and driven a bee away, I leaned my head, And holding by the stalk, I listened and I thought I caught the word— What was it? Did you call me by my name? Or did you say— Someone said ‘Come’—I heard it as I bowed.”
“I may have thought as much, but not aloud.”
“Well, so I came.”
There is story in these few lines. Perhaps the two had had a fight or disagreement, for he had walked “just as far as [he] could walk” away from her, yet their connection did not sever. Instead, he gave himself the time to be “all still.” And then, in the stillness, he hears her; he hears her heart. And he listens to it despite the possibility that she might still be angry. He forestalls her possible protestation that she did not call him; “Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you.” And she seems unwilling to admit she called him and to contradict him and say she didn’t. There is hesitancy and tenderness. Perhaps this couple will make it because they are learning to communicate. Perhaps one day I will write this story in its fullness…
For the past 10 days, I have been trying to write a poem. Yet my thoughts are in turmoil. As I arrange the words on the page, they riot and refuse to arrange themselves into verse. Much like what is going on in our nation. Many refuse to accept the election results; many others refuse to accept their disavowal.
I’ve said here before that we writers must speak up. We must hold firm to our beliefs. I still affirm this to be true. What I am having difficulty with is crafting a piece that is neither banal pablum nor condemning invective. The former barely nourishes and most lose taste for in early years; the latter is the method of transmission that so truly turns me off that I cannot employ it myself. Speak to me with intelligence, acknowledging my intelligence at the same time. Let us communicate. I have been so repelled by the current mode of shouting one’s ideas louder than one’s opponent rather than engaging in meaningful debate, that I cannot resort to it myself.
And so, my poem languishes.
I fear that we, Americans, have become incapable of meaningful discussion with those who hold opinions contrary to our own. We think we can. But I do not think we do. Rather, we say our piece, and in many cases shout our piece, and then stop. We may let the other talk, but we do not listen. We do not consider. We do not exchange ideas and learn from one another. Instead, we simply reaffirm our opinion more loudly.
In truth, we must learn to listen to one another instead of merely listening for the lull into which we can insert our own “truths.” Both sides must do this: our own as well as the opposition.
Do I dream? Perhaps. Yes. But we dreamers must continue to dream this wonderful world, this marvelous nation into the even more incredible reality it can be.
Today I received a notification from WordPress of a new like for a poem I wrote in April, “Take Off.” This particular like did a few things for me. It reminded me that I have been remiss in writing my blog this past month. I have allowed myself to get bogged down in I don’t even know what, but I have also been spending some time revisiting and revising stories and poems as well as writing new ones. Hopefully, I will have something to share with you soon. However, that reminder was not the only benefit of the new like. Of course there is the gratification of hearing that someone likes something you have written. We all crave that, do we not? Why else would we blog, if not to be heard and interact? Without that desire, we could write and simply store our writings on our hard drives or in desk drawers. But writing is about communicating. This particular like spoke to me in that it sent me back to the poem I wrote in April. And as I have been experiencing this summer, rereading and revising are an important part of the creative process.
When I received the notification that “Take Off” had received a new like, I immediately thought of the poem, or at least I thought I did. I remembered a poem in which I compared starting a new career later in life to a plane readying for take-off. I remember writing the poem; I remember what I was thinking and whom I was thinking of when I wrote it. I smiled thinking about that. Then, I clicked on the poem’s title and realized, oops, that’s not the poem that was liked! “Take Off” is a poem about imitation–both good and bad. The poem I was remembering has the words “take off” in it, but the title is “Departures.” So, I reread both poems. And I have to say, I still like them both. Even though “Departures” received no likes on WordPress (though it did receive some small notice on Facebook), I still think it is a good poem. But it is churning in my head now; perhaps because I have reread it and am willing to revise it, I can make it better. Let’s see what I come up with in the next few days!
Rereading “Take Off” also reminded me of the importance of practice and imitation. We learn from those who have gone before us. If we want to write poetry, we must read poetry too. Let’s comment on each other’s poems with something more thoughtful than “I like it.” Though it is always great to hear that, let’s tell each other why we like it. Let’s help each other develop the better parts of our poetry. Let’s also read some of “the greats,” the established poets, and imitate them. Try writing in the style of Wordsworth or Cisneros or Komunyakaa. These may end up being the poems that stay on our hard drives or in our journals, but it is an age old practice to imitate others in order to learn and to find one’s own voice. We cannot stay there in imitation, but we can start there, learn, and then take off on our own.