Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Poem is Found Within

April may be the cruelest month but April is also Poetry Month.  A letter from the Northern Women's Bookstore

Hello everyone,

I hope you are enjoying this snowy Saturday and not cursing this return to winter weather. April is the month of the unexpected, bringing us joys and challenges willy-nilly. But you knew that; April is not a surprise to a northerner.

April is also Poetry Month, so if you have forgotten or been to busy to let the muse of poetic sensibility enter your heart, April is here. April reminds you to pull out those poetry books that you love to read over and over again, to search out new books, new poets, old poets with new books, and, of course, to write poetry.

You say you are not a poet? That you can't write poetry? That is not true. Everyone is a poet. Are we not all creatures of oral traditions, parsing the complexities of our lives into economy of language on a daily basis? Are we not women familiar with white sheets?

Mary Oliver, poet of sublime beauty that tugs at your heart, says that to become a good writer of poetry one must read good poetry. This is the heart of the advice from her A Poetry Handbook that I picked up from The Northern Woman's Bookstore at the beginning of April. It's a slim book, a slip of a book, but Oliver teaches her readers many things inside those 130 pages. Like economy of language. Working with white space.

All poetry books at the Northern Women's Bookstore are 20% off for the month of April.

Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems, vol. one is sitting on the back shelves along with a host of other poetry books by diverse women:

Being on the Moon by Annharte ("Like the moon herself, the language is fierce and beautiful")

It's Hard Being Queen: The Dusty Springfield Poems by Jeanette Lynes ("This is no hagiography. This is no tabloid adventure")

The Door by Margaret Atwood ("written in a sparse, elegiac tone that combines illuminating intelligence with caustic humour")

Cistern of my Body by Rona Shaffran ("simple, sensuous and real, setting down reality in a fresh way")

All Names Spoken by Tamai Kobayashi and Mona Oikawa ("Extremely provocative and uninhibited")
many others, including local writers!

Picking up Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems, because it is April, I opened page 78, "The Swan." Why because it is April? Well, when we were removing old carpets and flooring in our 102 year-old house, under the fourth layer of tiles in the second floor back room that at one time had been converted into a kitchen, I found an old local newspaper from May 7, 1942. The newspaper announced:

City Topics
Swans Visit Chippewa
A number of years ago wild swans began to call at Chippewa Park, Fort William, on their way north.  Yesterday five swans arrived. The usual period of stay is from two to three weeks. They were seen in the bay adjacent to the tourist camp.

What does this mean to April? Well, the end of April is near, climate change has moved dates up, so the swans will soon arrive. I have to prepare for their arrival.

My ritual for preparation for the arrival of swans begins with reading about swans. Mary Oliver has written a few poems called "The Swan." The poem below is found online; it is not the same one in her book of selected poems, which begins "Across the wide waters / something comes / floating--a slim / and delicate / ship, filled / with white flowers--"

The Swan

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

© Mary Oliver. From The Paris Review # 124, Fall, 1992. Find it here

See you at The Northern Woman's Bookstore!

signed, the northern woman

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