Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Amazing Power of Poetry

The poetic voice is not a natural form for me. But running through every Hamline residency is the power and invitation to write and appreciate poetry, even for us died in the wool prose writers. From NF writer Catherine Thimmesh's suggested revision technique using poetry to Kelly Easton's advice to revise at a deep level by using poetic language to Christine Heppermann's beautiful poetic reading, poetry is setting is sensory language. Mary Logue and Ron Koertge regularly read poetry to us. In January 2009, Phyllis Root and Jackie Briggs-Martin in a swirl of brilliant scarves invited us to bring poetry into our lives every day.

Recently poetry rang deeply for me in a personal way. A close writer friend of mine in Spokane just had hip replacement surgery, caused by a break due to brittle bones developed over years of taking a needed medication. Young, much younger than I, Emalee was quite devastated at first. How could she deal with the loss and fear of a body that might not come back around?

She wrote poetry. And then she had a lunch celebration where she read us her poems to her old hip, to the surgeon putting in her new hip, to her life with her new hip. These were not hackneyed, emotionally outpourings. Those would have held power to heal, too. But the beauty of Emalee's language took me even deeper. We weren't all writers at the luncheon, but I felt as if my life as a writer helped me understand the power of the moment even more.

When I went to visit Emalee at the hospital the other night, we talked about how she had learned to write poetry. Through an 80-year-old poet at her church who met with her every month for five years. They studied great poems, what they meant and how they were written. And Emalee began to write her own. Sounds like an MFA at Hamline.

I asked Emalee if I could post about her poetry and she smiled in delight.

Excerpt from "Ode to the Hip I was Born With"

"The gowned ones will carry you out.
Your last sigh will be far from me.
But to dust you shall become
And to dust I shall go, too.
In some generation yet to come
When Venus collides into Mars
And what is hard on our planet
Turns vaporous
We'll slip away with all the others
Till gravity pulls us close again
And we enter the dim light
Of a barely born blue star
That waltzes slowly,
With a fresh moon."

On days like this I love being a writer and I love having friends who think so deeply and take me there, too.


  1. Absolutely beautiful and moving, Claire. Emalee's poem is amazing. Wow.

  2. Things

    Went to the corner
    Walked in the store
    Bought me some candy
    Ain't got it no more
    Ain't got it no more

    Went to the beach
    Played on the shore
    Built me a sandhouse
    Ain't got it no more
    Ain't got it no more

    Went to the kitchen
    Lay down on the floor
    Made me a poem
    Still got it
    Still got it

    -Eloise Greenfield

  3. The late (and dearly missed) Karla Kuskin has a poem that goes--I think--"Write about a radish. Everybody writes about the moon." Or write about your hip! Thanks for the reminder, Claire, that inspiration is everywhere.

  4. The actual K.K. lines are:

    Write about a radish.
    Too many people write about the moon.

    [Like Emalee's, it's a wonderful poem.]

  5. The poem on my hip was the first I've written in a long time. In your words, I find encouragement to explore the path of poetry once more. Thank you. Emalee Gruss Gillis