Guest Post: How I Got Into Poetry

I’ve talked a bit before about my sister over at The Casual Philosopher, which in her words is “a platform for my random discourse with myself on things that interest me, which can be as relevant as book reviews and societal muses, or as stupid as figuring out exactly what makes an actor’s face memorable.  I’ll tell you a secret: on Eddie Redmayne, it’s the muscle around the mouth, the orbicularis oris.”  We’re both bookworms, but while I am mostly into YA and occasional memoirs, she prefers the classics and poetry.  With much more pride than is really necessary, I introduce Rhoda Marshall.

I talk about poetry an awful lot on my blog, and I’m sure some of you (if you follow her, and if you don’t, you should) are tired of my constant blather. But believe it or not, I wasn’t always into poetry. None of my immediate family is as into poetry as I am, and I’ve only been really into poetry for about a year and a half, though it feels like I’ve been here my whole life.

I can distinctly remember my ignorant younger self saying I wasn’t a poetry person. I’ve always been into books, but I used to quite dislike poetry, though, thankfully, I never got to the point where I really hated it. I think sometime during my brief public school career, a teacher introduced me to Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, which got me rather hooked on Shel Silverstein, to the point where I collected all four of his children’s poetry anthologies, but I called myself a “Shel Silverstein person,” still not a poetry person.

Through high school, of course, I was made to read and analyze poetry, which I didn’t mind too much, because I really just don’t mind school. I had specific poems I liked, and I even memorized several of my own accord, but for some reason, I still didn’t say I liked poetry in general, which, looking back on it, seems odd to me, what with those memorized poems and all. I had even written about five poems before I bought the book that catapulted me into poetry-person-dom.

Perhaps my conversion to a poetry person was more of a gradual change than a turn-around, but even if it was, I can still peg the exact point that my fate was sealed. I was in a Barnes & Noble in Virginia, at Christmastime with all my cousins. I was going through one of those reflective periods that people kind of go through in cycles, where you feel the need to examine and understand the poignant parts of life and history so that you can look at the happy parts of the world with more understanding and appreciation. I wasn’t looking for anything real specific. I always have a list of books I’d like to buy, but none of it was especially pressing. So I’d wandered around for a while, picking books up and putting them back down, when I found myself in front of the small section of poetry. I was poking through Dante’s Divine Comedy, which we read a few years ago in lit class, when my attention was diverted to another title: Some Desperate Glory, by Max Egremont, a book of Great War poetry.

The title captured the poignant-romantic mood I was in, so I picked it up, flipped through it, and bought it right there. I spent every dollar I had with me, then went back to continue wandering with my cousins. This book fit just the mood I had been in and continued to be in for a few more weeks. It’s a thoughtful anthology, and it was just what I needed to flip me to poetry-person-dom.

I kept this book by my bed for about a month, and would read a bit from it before I went to bed. About the time I was finishing it up, Book Week came along. During February, schools were closed for nearly two straight weeks where I live, which is highly unusual, and during the second week, my friend and I had cabin fever so bad we went out gallivanting. We visited a total of five book-establishments in five days, and bought way more books than, as poor starving students, we could really afford. Two of these book joints stand out as more significant to my poetry-loving journey than the others. One was a tiny used book shop about an hour from where we live, where, in my new found appreciation for poetry, I bought a big, blue book of general poetry, published in 1942, a chronological book of poetry from Tennyson to Whitman, and a Penguin paperback of more WWI poetry. The other, which we visited on the same day, was a local thrift store, where I bought a Reader’s Digest edition of 101 Famous Poems someone had compiled.

Book Week pretty much sealed my fate as a poetry person. As I slowly went through all of my new books, finding poems I already knew, and finding more that whispered to me, my transition to hard-core poetry lover was complete. I continued writing poetry, and did it more frequently. I regularly pick up one of my books and just flip through it, to see what jumps out at me that day. Through this, I’ve discovered loads of great poems, which have defined things I’ve believed in but haven’t been able to say concisely, such as “How Did You Die?” by Edmund Vance Cooke, and given me tools to stay inspired, such as “Thanksgiving,” by Robert Graves, to name two of the innumerable ways I’ve used and enjoyed all these words.

On my own blog I tried a Top Ten type thing one time, but they’re simply too numerous and I can’t just pick poems that mean the most to me, because if I read them and liked them enough to consider for a list, then they deserve to be on it. So here’s the first ten random poems (besides the couple I’ve already mentioned) I’ve written in my Books of Wisdom.

“Opportunity,” by Edward R. Still
“Gethsemane,” by Rudyard Kipling
“The Example,” by W. H. Davies
“The King’s Tragedy,” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
“Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth,” by Arthur Hugh Clough
“There is no Frigate like a Book,” by Emily Dickinson
“O World,” by George Santyana
“Invitation,” by Shel Silverstein
“Big Red,” by Joseph Alvie Estes
‘Masks,” by Shel Silverstein

One other good thing that has come out of my new love of poetry is the Word Shakers. Word Shakers is a poetry club sort of thing I started with my closest friends. Its full story is on my own blog, but a few months ago, we wrote poems describing the group on the spot, impromptu. My own poetry has become more prolific because I’m now unabashedly into poetry, and here’s my Word Shakers poem, as an example. I don’t have the others’ permission to publish theirs, otherwise I’d show you those too.

“Word Shakers”
Rhoda Marshall
The world was too little for us.
Casual conversation and the fumes from the bus
That was taking us down the great wide way;
The way to apathy and gloom,
The way to miss birdsong and revel by light of the moon.
The world was too little for us.
We wanted to watch the pixies prance
Upon a Summer’s night.
So we started to get up before the light
When the magic of nighttime was still on our minds,
To shake the world that was too little for us.
To use the words which God has given,
To move the mountains and make a difference.
To make the world too much.

That pretty much concludes my journey from non-poetry to poetry-person. Now that I’ve been in it for a while, I’ve adopted my book philosophy to go with poetry as well. I think everyone has their poem. Not everyone will become a poetry lover, but I really believe there’s a poem out there for everyone, one that will whisper to them, and really mean something, so that they’ll carry it around forever. It’s only a matter of finding it.


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