Sidney invited me to post some poems, most of which I composed during a class with Molly Peacock, which I took, fortunately, at her recommendation. I didn’t really know Molly, but I liked her name, and her cool peacock logo, a beautiful feminine watercolor, full of movement and style. Her class was a seminar on the metaphysical poets George Herbert and John Donne. Surely I remembered reading Donne in college, years ago, but I couldn’t recall George Herbert. I highly recommend studying something you’re unfamiliar with, learning something new – I know it’s a cliché, but it’s such a relief to be reminded that there are fresh insights, that what you hadn’t learned can still be learned. And for a poet, there is such comfort in form – I didn’t even realize I needed form, I thought maybe I’d invented my own sort of form, a stream of consciousness rant like Kerouac but not as flighty, as whimsical as E E Cummings with punctuation. Yes it’s good to have some pomposity if you’re going to try to be a poet!
Anyhow, in class we read some wonderful poems, and unpacked them – discussed their meanings, like in school, but not in a diagrammed way, like when I learned The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, but as a conversation among poets. One thing that is so great about Molly is she has a way about speaking of the lives of Herbert and Donne as if she knew them, intimate details that made them come alive. We read Prayer by George Herbert, and afterwards, she invited us to write a poem using comparisons, making a list, and then she added, why don’t you try it in quatrains? We also read The Pulley, and Love (III) also by Herbert, after which she invited us to have a conversation, to combine short and long sentences, to try and resolve something. How about a little rhyme, she suggested, and I learned not to overdo it; she counseled (while kindly not pointing out I had at first written some sort of limerick) don’t feel you have to rhyme everything. Just a suggestion of rhyme gives a lift to the ear AND gives you the freedom to complete your thought.
These two poems, The Painting and After George Herbert are the poems I began to write in class (the latter, as my 8-year old son would say, obviously) – they took some sprucing up afterwards, but the impetus to start them was invaluable. If you ever think about taking a poetry class I think you should – poets are so aware that they exist together in this world of words and emotions – expressing what cannot be expressed otherwise – that it seems to me, at least from this class, that they can’t help thriving off of and supporting one another. Plus there is joy in poetry, and poems can be read with a deep lilting voice that loves syllables and rhymes, with humor and light. I’m really glad I took this class with Molly, which pushed me to experiment with form and realize how freeing it can be.
After George Herbert
A shock, a gray hair plucked from a head of brown.
The pain, dull and sharp in an unplanned bend,
A reflection blurred, the memory of
What used to be a repetition, redundant;
A drowning child, forever paddling,
warrior traveler, pretender to the throne,
a character in a coming-of-age novel, a heroine to one’s own,
it feels like love, recognizing what once was;
Ingénue, and idealist, and lover, and dreamer
A mare full grown,
The belly laughs and quick tears of children
A benediction, a call home.
Every heart to love will come
but like a refugee.
–Leonard Cohen, “Anthem.”
Are you still there?
I ask over the distance,
always at a distance.
And yet you are there,
more clearly now that you don’t
tread backwards into the night.
You’re not a refugee,
and you wear this knowledge
like a badge of pride,
your hair shirt,
preferring not to carry
your past inside as we all do.
It’s an odd sort of bravery,
this capacity for the truth.
One only has to look at your eyes,
pools of cobalt blue that laugh and cry in succession.
Never have I seen someone so eager for a joke.
Never have I seen someone so moved by another’s pain.
Remember that little white room in Ogunquit,
Where from the bath, you could see the ocean?
You put the paints I’d brought you on a shelf,
the canvas paper a “neat invention” you said–
A retiree with no use for a desk, a knight without a sword.
I’m surrounded by your pictures now,
did you know? It’s a strange thing, this legacy.
Susan came last summer, with her embassy manners and pie, to claim hers.
“It was painted during a very important time for us both” she said,
or she’d let me keep it.
Trouble was by then I’d grown accustomed
to its skies of cobalt blue, it’s emeralds joyful with light,
verdant lily pads leaping over a daffodil tributary.
Is this what Van Gogh saw
when he imagined home?
You never painted me,
but you took a photograph–
I had the round full eyes of my daughter.
I couldn’t have known then,
eyes on the camera, what would fall apart.