Weirdos in Berets — Praise Them

April 1, 2010

Glory be to God for dappled things —
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
       For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; . . .
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                                               Praise him.
                                            — Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1899
                                                English priest and poet

Today is the first day of National Poetry Month, a celebration created in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. According to that organization’s website, the idea is “to widen the attention of individuals and the media—to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.” Through this focused attention, they “hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.”

John Lundberg, a poet who writes regularly for The Huffington Post, acknowledges that in the United States, poetry is probably “best known for the simple, sentimental verses found in Hallmark cards and the lyrics of pop music.” In fact, he says, “The word ‘poet’ probably calls to mind some weirdo in a beret. ”

I know some poets. I even tried to be one for a while, but found myself unequal to the challenge of crafting such concentrated work. None of poets I know wear a beret, although the one who introduced himself to me at Bread Loaf last year approached me because he knew about my hat. And my poet friends are, by and large, not weirdos, or, shall we say, no more weird than any of the other writers whom I come across in my gallivants.

I don’t write poetry, but I do read it and, even better, I buy it. My volumes of poetry are the only ones among my myriad books pretty much all in one place in the house, arranged alphabetically and catalogued. I have been concentrating so much on fiction since August that I stopped reading poetry as a form of meditation to start the day. A week or so ago, I picked up a volume of Crazyhorse, one from 2008 that I bought because I knew one of the fiction writers whose work was included. I couldn’t think of a snappy status update for Facebook, so I opened the magazine at random and copied out some of the lines I found there.

Rainwater, lamplight, and anise are the words I wake with. I used that line from Louisiana-born poet Katherine Soniat the day I made this year’s first batch of Easter bread. I use a recipe labeled Greek Easter bread and substitute anise for the cardamom it calls for, because Ron says it replicates the taste and texture that takes him back to the Easters of his Italian-influenced youth. The fragrance fills the house still, though all three loaves I made are gone. (One of them is in Lynn’s freezer, dropped off today as I passed near her place on my way to a fiction reading and craft class.)

Like the landscape, I’ve wakened to something new. It wasn’t a particularly hard winter, neither in inner nor outer weather, but it was winter. I put all my creative energy into writing fiction and slowed down or stopped in other endeavors, particularly posting here.

In keeping with National Poetry Month, I’m going to post a few lines of poetry every day as my Facebook status. I hope to post the same lines here as well, with commentary, but you know how that goes. I begin with Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose words have always given me so much juice and so much joy. Praise him.

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