Saved By A Poem

Every time I think I’ve learned as much as I can learn, grown as much as I can grow, evolved as much as I can evolve, I find myself teetering on the edge of another precipice, forced to spread my invisible wings and flap hard to move to a slightly higher place. Those flying lessons always come in the midst of times when I’ve been forced by some gritty circumstance to pay close attention to the here and now.

The latest nudge to flap my puny wings arrived as a gift of a book by Kim Rosen titled SAVED BY A POEM (Hay House, 2009). We’re never presented with a new lesson until we’re ready, so I suppose I must have been ready for Rosen, even though reading a book about poetry was the last thing in the world I would have consciously chosen to do. I read it almost as a duty, because the book had been a gift.

I’ve never been a poem person. My need to understand has always gotten in the way of hearing poetry the way it should be heard. I’ve always tried to find meaning in the lines of poetry, and if meaning wasn’t immediately forthcoming, I’d grow quickly bored with it. And I definitely didn’t have time for the the soft squishy Hallmark kind of poetry about flowers and sunsets. The only poetry I’d committed to memory had been foisted on me in school, lines that seemed comical because an entire generation had been forced to learn them, and because educators failed to realize that lines like “A tree whose hungry mouth is prest/against the earth’s sweet flowing breast” was bound to elicit giggles rather than awe in twelve-year-olds.

But I learned from Rosen’s book how to absorb lines of poetry into my flesh and bones, to feel the power of the words and let them work their magic. I learned that, like music, the rhythms and sounds of spoken poetry cause measurable changes in the human body.

The book has a CD in the back of various people reciting their favorite poem and speaking a bit about what the poem means to them. I’ve listened to it several times, pulled out all my books of poetry, found a CD of the poet David Whyte speaking some of his own poems — another gift I’ve had for a long time and now listen to with new ears. I find myself feeling starved for poetry, as if I’ve been deprived of something vital for a long time. SAVED BY A POEM may not have saved me, but it certainly changed me.

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