Poetry is the stuff of life, not for musty shelves: Jo Gibson

CLEVELAND — Probably because I am very aware that April is National Poetry Month, a recent incident in my life, one involving a poem, stays with me.

It was the day my friend Eric and I sat around, catching up on news about our colleagues and other mutual friends. We shared a few laughs, hooting over a silly inside joke. Then the conversation turned to serious topics, but when the war in Ukraine was mentioned, all talk stopped.

What could we say? How to talk about an event so dreadful?

Eric broke the silence, almost whispering as he recited lines from William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming”:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

We repeated lines to each other, stunned by the way Yeats gave voice to our thoughts: “things fall apart – “the center cannot hold” – “anarchy is loosed.”

I have thought a lot about that. True enough — Eric and I had majored in English in college, so books, writing, and literature are second nature to us. Even so, that incident reminded me how necessary poetry is. It illuminates our experiences as human beings. It says what we want to say. But can’t.

So I am glad April is National Poetry Month; I am glad that the Academy of American Poets decided, in 1996, to mark “poetry’s important place in our lives,” inviting the public to read and write poems; and I am glad that we are accepting that invitation.

Jo Gibson is a retired editor and college instructor who still writes, and still reads poetry. (Photo by Studio South Photography. Used with permission)

There are plenty of ways to celebrate poetry. To start, we can visit the Cuyahoga County Public Library website and sign up to receive a different poem every day during April, together with a writing prompt and a suggested book to read.

Another easy activity is to read poetry to a young child. Not only is it fun to sit together, letting the little one turn the pages while you read, but research confirms that this benefits youngsters. You’re giving them a break from intense, hectic internet sites, role-modeling how to slow down and pay attention. If you don’t know what to read, a librarian or teacher or bookseller can point you in the right direction. You won’t go wrong.

Also, sample some poems for yourself. That might lead you one way, where you find yourself going back to poems that are hard to understand the first time you encounter them. I still find Emily Dickinson mysterious! The “Belle of Amherst” is hardly typical, I imagine, of a well-brought-up lady in New England in the mid-1800s, as when she wrote:

“My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun – / In Corners – till a Day / The Owner passed – identified – / And carried Me away.”

Another poet might become your instant personal favorite. That happened to me. I read ee cummings’ poetry when I was in college and now, decades later, I am still in love with it. Any idyllic day of any season of the year, if I walk in the Rocky River Reservation, knocked out by its beauty, ee cummings comes to mind:

“I thank you god for most this amazing day / For the leafy green spirits of trees / And a blue true dream of sky / And for everything which is natural, which is infinite. . . “

If you get discouraged about something – be it a sports team’s score or a difficult life decision – you’ll find you want a poem. Turn to the poet with the deep Cleveland connection, Langston Hughes:

“Hold fast to dreams / For if dreams die / Life is a broken-winged bird / That cannot fly.”

Yes, turn to a poem.

You won’t go wrong.

After 20 years working first as an editor at what was called Dalton-Dalton-Newport for most of her tenure, then as a writer at Technicomp, Jo Gibson “retired” and quite happily taught college composition part-time at Cuyahoga Community College West and Cleveland State University for over 15 years. She continues to write. And to read poems.

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