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Dept. of a Different Way to Communicate

National Poetry Month

Others on my f'list have mentioned that April is National Poetry Month; a few have posted some of their favorite poems. I'd like to do that, too.

It sounds very simplistic to say "I love poetry," but sometimes saying something like this is simple, rather than simplistic.

I do love poetry. There are times that verse and blank verse can speak to us, or speak on our behalf to others, in a way that even the most eloquent prose can not. It can be rigorously intellectual, it can be an emotional tone poem, it can be transcendent and spiritual, it can tell us things we don't know, or have forgotten, or need to understand, about our world. It can be all of those things, and more.

Put simply (that concept again!), poetry can be a particularly rich and nutritious food for our hearts and our minds. It certainly is for me. There have been times, in fact, when it is more food for me than food. (Which is a horrible, horrible sentence.)

So, in honor of what poetry has taught me and given me, here is a poem by Alden Nowlan. He was born in 1933 in Windsor, Nova Scotia, just a few miles from where I grew up. He was primarily self-educated and a newspaperman, two more reasons I think he's awesome. He died in 1983, after having won the Governor General's Award for Poetry and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and having won a reputation for the marvelous gatherings of people that flocked regularly to his home.

This poem, "The Red Wool Shirt," is, I think, Nowlan at his best. This is the Maritimes in which I grew up, this is fishermen's lives, and he puts it together with just the right number of calm, clear-eyed, remorseless words.

I was hanging out my wash,
says the woman in North Sydney.
It was a rope line I was using
and they were wooden pins,
the real old-fashioned kind
that didn't have a spring.

It was good drying weather.

I could see the weir fishermen
at work.
              I had a red wool shirt
in my hands and had just
noticed that one of the buttons
was missing.

Then I looked up and saw
Charlie Sullivan coming
towards me.
He'd always had a funny walk.
It was as if he was walking

           That walk of his
always made me smile except
for some reason
I didn't smile
that day.      
                He had on a hat
with salmon flies
that he'd tied himself
in the brim.

Poor old Charlie.

It's bad, Mary, he said.

I finished
hanging up the red wool
        and then I said,
Charlie, it's not
both of them, and he said,
Mary, I'm afraid it is.

And that was that.



( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 11th, 2011 04:07 am (UTC)
*whistles* That's gorgeous and harsh. Reminds me a bit of Elisabeth Bishop, if you know any of her stuff?

I may have to do something for this too . . .
Apr. 11th, 2011 04:19 am (UTC)
Isn't it? I've not heard of Elisabeth Bishop. I'll look for her - do you have any particular favorites of hers?

ETA: I *have* heard of her - and I've read her. I don't know why my brain whited out on her. She spent her early childhood in Nova Scotia and visited repeatedly throughout her life.

Edited at 2011-04-11 04:38 am (UTC)
Apr. 11th, 2011 05:14 am (UTC)
As soon as I went and looked some up, it was like . . . ah, Nova Scotia--that's why I'm reminded of it!

I read an awful lot of her poems (I think possibly all of them) a number of years ago. Sadly I don't remember any too well, although I do recall liking The Moose quite a lot.

The one that jumped immediately to mind with you poem was The Fish, for obvious reasons.
Apr. 11th, 2011 12:54 pm (UTC)
I had read "The Fish" before, and it's a gorgeous portrait of several complicated things, not least of which is the fish. I may have read "The Moose" before, but if I did, re-reading it was like a joyful first time.
Apr. 11th, 2011 05:37 am (UTC)
The difference between simple and simplistic is vital for much poetry. That poem you've chosen is indeed excellent. The rich characterization and ending punch make it special.
Apr. 11th, 2011 12:48 pm (UTC)
I sometimes think the success of a poem lies partly in how many times it rises to the top of my mind, uncalled for. This one does that a lot. I'm glad to have introduced it to you.

Edited at 2011-04-11 12:48 pm (UTC)
Apr. 11th, 2011 06:56 am (UTC)
That's spare and perfect. Thanks for sharing it.

Apr. 11th, 2011 12:49 pm (UTC)
You're welcome. I'm pleased to be able to share it.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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