The Words You Need

A few months ago I purchased an issue of Sou’wester because they were celebrating poems by women and I really wanted to read that.

The issue opens with a poem by Alison Pelegrin, whose work I admire, and I read it through very excited by it, enjoying it, and thinking, just wow am I going to enjoy the rest of the issue if it’s like this.

It was not like this. And I skimmed the remainder of the issue.

Months later, I re-read Pelegrin’s poem and I wonder, what gave me such a rush last time? Definitely the use of anaphora/refrain, I love that, and it still sings. I think there was something about the particular words themselves, “may you find the words you need”, that resonated with me.

What are the words you need? Once my sister complained that I sent her too many cheerful mix tapes. I’ve thought about that for years and only now—the words I need?—do I realize that I made and sent all those tapes because I needed cheering, I need someone to make that effort to help me stay upbeat. I can’t fault her for not noticing; I didn’t, until this year. But it’s made me look at my own actions differently. Isn’t that what poetry is supposed to do?

While Pelegrin’s titular phrase still eats at me, I find myself less interested in my insults stinging, or being fluent in birdsong, or surrendering to cherry blossoms, no matter how beautiful those images from the poem are. I need the words I need. These aren’t them. They might be them were they divorced from their current company in the poem, I can’t say.

But the longer I stare at the poem, the longer I am certain there are words I need, badly, and I do not have them. I do not know if they are words I am meant to share or if they are words I am meant to hoard. But I am looking now. I am examining dictionaries side-eyed. I am interrogating nonfiction, breaking it into chunks to see what the phrases do distended and distorted and alone. My every breath may be a prayer, as Pelegrin adjures me, but I am too fired up, too dedicated, too much on a quest to appreciate her “silence in the shadows of flowering trees”.

Tap, Tap… This Thing On?

It’s a bit dusty here but that seems almost normal for such a collection of beloved poems and their criticism set about them like baby’s breath in a flower arrangement.

But it’s that time of year again and I do mean poems, not spring, although if spring were to arrive with a poem, how joyous that would be here in northern climes.

So have a poem.

Weeds by Abbie Huston Evans

Weeds need no man’s abetting,
It well may be a sin,
But I am all for letting
The worst of all come in:

Hawkweed, that pest pernicious,
(More orange than a flame!)
And blue vetch, full as vicious,
(Too beautiful to tame!)

Frown now, it is your duty,
Chide me for one who dotes.
I cannot sleep for beauty
Of charlock in the oats.

And some pictures of charlock, hawkweed, blue vetch, and oats.

“Fashions are so changing!”

Earlier this year, I found a 1928 children’s songbook in a bin, it being un-resellable due to some child (or children) having scribbled all over it; also, both the illustrations and texts are severely dated. Makes them perfect for handmade cards, though, as well as just moments of marveling at the notion of getting today’s grade-school kids to sing stanzas such as these:

Fashions are so changing!
In the days of old
Young men dressed in colors,
Laced with thread of gold.

Now their clothes are solemn,
Black and brown and gray.
We should like to see them
Dressed the other way.

    – Nancy Byrd Turner, “In Days of Old” (a “reading song” set to a tune by Haydn)

On the next page, there’s a “rote song” by Abbie Farwell Brown (tune by Horatio Parker):

A candy lion’s very good,
Because he cannot bite,
Nor wander roaring for his food,
Nor eat up folks at night.
But though it’s very nice for me,
It’s not nice for him;
For ev’ry day he seems to be
More shapeless and more slim.
…And first, there’s no tail any more;
And next he has no head;
And then he’s just a candy roar,
And might as well be dead.

…okay, I could see some 21st-century ten-year-olds getting into that. The diction’s a trifle stodgy, though…

*saunters off with thoughts of riffing on just a candy roar*