The Birth of a Poet
April is National Poetry Month; all the poetry magazines are making big deal about it. Even the magazines that don’t feature poetry are suddenly filling corners and spaces with little odd quotes and dribbles of poetic inspiration. Bah! They don’t understand poetry! It’s just a way to capture that tiny, growing population of dreamers, skeptics, and editors. It’s all a kind of ballyhoo because it’s expected or required to be profitable and trendy. However, I don’t think they understand what it all really means. I certainly didn’t. Until today.
You see, I read poetry every day. Wrote it, too. Every day. I scoffed at magazines pitching poetry between their covers only once a year. I shunned people who claimed to have a grip on precision and form but spent their time reading horror or mystery novels and never actually penned a single simile. Yes, I was a poetry snob.
Sometimes I looked askance at my peers because their poetry all sounded the same, lacked verve or passion, or even a rhyme. Oh yes, I prided myself on hard work and understanding, on learning my craft and my visionary works. “It’s April?” I would scoff. “So? Every day is a poetry day for me!” Such was my arrogance. Until today.
Today I went to my desk and did what I always do. First, a little light reading, for inspiration. I’m rather fond of Billy Shakespeare. Today roared with his poetic Venus and Adonis. An hour of Shakespeare to study form and style. A few thoughts scribbled until something of my own begins to take shape. Pleased, I take a break and read my writers’ magazines. Then time to work on my book. Another break for lunch. Finally, I lovingly slide a folder of half-baked poems – random thoughts, excellent one-liners, and poesies needing editing – across my desk. I slave! If I’m lucky, and work tenaciously, something beautiful will emerge and I’ll swell with pride having created a poem. That is, I always would. Until today.
Today as I realized it was National Poetry Month, I also realized I was bored with the magazines acting as if this was their great discovery. So I shook off the hypocrisy and decided on a walk. Spring was slipping and sliding in the muck that was my backyard, tossing wildflowers in between the carefully planted daffodils and tulips. I smiled at these treasures like poems in the making, random verses just waiting to bloom. Like the blossoms, I believed in my own absolute development when suddenly, what once was a dandelion weakly cried out to me. The yellow gone, the gossamer fluff having blown away, there was only a ragged stem. I huffed aloud. A weed! A dead weed among my treasures! Or so I thought. Until today.
As I stood there by that dandelion, a strange compulsion overcame me. I don’t know why but I knelt down and stretched out beside the stem. I really studied it, surprisingly curious; and then I rolled over in the grass, and gazed at what I thought the once-yellowed, now empty, stem saw.
Above me – us – a bounty of clouds in a periwinkle sky, a framework for a nut-brown butterfly cruising close. The acrid exhaust of a tour bus and fresh grass seed augmented by pungent, wild onions. Sounds of a deep-rumble of a bumblebee and the hollow honking of a geese formation rolled by on a tickling breeze. I smiled but only because these were expected things and not a shock.
Then I discovered poetry.
Twilight rolled over the stem and me, damp and uncomfortable. The weed that had thrived on sunshine and wind looked somehow naked and fruitless, limp and alone in a Bermuda yard. I touched the stem, sticky and fuzzy, and understood its tenuous hold in the earth. It was dying. Nothing in Nature seemed to care, not a bird or even a worm paid attention. Yet this little stem clung in thirsty desperation to a sandy, unyielding soil, staring like a silent guardian at its last night sky. There was no arrogance or sorrow. Above, a sky of stars and a universe beyond it, unreachable to this weed, yet it sang with the totality of life. Amazed, I remained with the barren stem until the dew came; the stem turned black and died. I had spent the night in wonderment of a simple weed.
Today, I’ll do my exercises and read a few trade magazines, hunting out the obscure poetry obligingly pigeonholed. I’ll read a few works by some unpublished friends who believe they understand the secret of poetry. As I look at the dandelion on my desk, all yellow and full of promise, I believe my friends actually might be right. Later, I’ll write humbly in the company of a dandelion because, you see, it’s April and National Poetry Month. And because, unlike my peers, I never really understood poetry. Until today.
Sherry Rentschler © 1999, previously published in the Amateur Poetry Journal, online
(and this will explain to you why I focus so much on the dandelion)