I feel at home in a bookstore—I am at home in a bookstore. One Monday I was reporting to a co-worker on my weekend. “I only had four hours in Powell’s City of Books to look around.” He, obviously not a kindred spirit, said, “How the heck could you spend four hours in a place that sells books?”
Well, in the first place, Portland, Oregon’s flagship store is a BIG bookstore. Powell’s website claims it as the largest used and new bookstore in the world, taking up an entire city block and housing about 1,000,000 volumes. Besides, even a more ordinary-sized shop can take hours to explore.
I’m not interested in every section in Powell’s. For example, I don’t spend time browsing the physics/chemistry/mathematics sections, or sports or military history. I appreciate those collections being there for interested readers, but the subjects don’t pull me in. I do head to several non-fiction areas: spirituality, theology, memoir, how-to-write advice.
Fiction, both popular and literary, is my main world. Spotting books I already own makes me smile fondly, and, of course, there’s the joy of a new discovery, either of author or title. I wander around confidently.
The poetry section, though, creates a different range of feelings. I approach with curiosity and anticipation, overlaid with trepidation. My self-confidence disappears. I become daunted by the shelves of poets and their books. How to choose? How to evaluate? How to understand? For years I’ve thought about poetry as an untapped universe, just waiting for me to open myself up to its offerings.
Six years ago, I stepped up to the challenge I felt from poetry. Dr. Ron Leatherbarrow, retired college administrator and professor of poetry, agreed to lead a monthly discussion group. Meeting since 2015, we’ve examined the classics and introduced ourselves to new voices. Our small group has delved into structure and pondered interpretation. The discussion has been fascinating. Fascinating enough that we’ve been broadcasting recordings of our conversations. You can hear us at https://poetryclub.podbean.com.
Our time together is divided into two parts. In the first hour we cover the work of a published poet; the second hour is dedicated to those in the group who wish to share something they’ve written for our comments. Some in the group share regularly, some infrequently—me, not at all. Not yet.
My aspiration for 2022 is to take up writing poetry. It’s a daunting thought, but it seems the thing for me to do at this particular time.
Our country remains a mess. While we’ve been promised we “won’t be as sick,” Covid, in its new guise as Omicron, is wreaking havoc. Anti-vaxers continue to divide families. On the political front, Congress remains entrenched in its us-vs-them mentality. The Republicans are pushing an undefendable attack on voting rights.
I decided I needed to do something new, something hard, something that would make me feel like more than a bystander. I’m certainly not saying that my attempts at poem-crafting will make a change in the world. But it could make a change in me.
The Biblical hero Job experienced unimaginable hardships as a result of an argument between God and Satan over the depth of Job’s faithfulness. In the midst of the worst of days, Job says, “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever!” (Job 19:23-24)
It’s a huge jump from the strife Job was experiencing to the ease of my life in these unsettling days. But we do share the belief that our words have power and they should be scribed and shared.
Writing to you through this blog has been a blessing to me these two years, and I’m certainly not going to drop that connection. But I’ve got to do something in addition, something hard. Something like try to write poetry.
I wouldn’t call myself superstitious, but I do have my belief in signs and talismans. My brother and sister-in-law gave me a serious looking leather journal for Christmas that immediately spoke to me as the place for my poetic scribblings. They also gave me an Etsy gift certificate that I used to purchase a spirit doll I’m certain will be my muse. I dropped hints (well, actually, I sent specific book titles) to my secret Santa and in return I received four books on how to write poetry.
Then, after those try-some-poetry nudges, I found a wonderful piece of art. Wandering a gallery in Olympia, I was drawn to a print of a woman standing with arms spread open-wide to the heavens. The artist, Lisa Telling Kattenbraker, captioned her drawing “Chaos, Clarity, Grace” Beyond doubt, I see all these signs as affirmation of my goal.
Robert Frost wrote, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” This season is ripe for a poem.
Dear Reader, blessings on all of us as we figure out how we’ll traverse 2022.