The Miraculous, Tea, Kitchen Annunciations, and Your Beautiful Soul
The book of poetry I’m reading this week is by Amy Gerstler, Scattered at Sea. It came in a week where Facebook keeps showing me memories of our dog Ace, who left us over a year ago now. So this poem was really felt:
by Amy Gerstler
that there was no blood in the toilet this morning.
That the beloved dog lasted as long as he did.
(His patience and resignation remain,
though you can no longer smell them).
That waking ever follows hibernation:
truly astonishing. Incredible, that illness
is ever recovered from, that curtains so
faithfully translate the language of wind.
I could quote from many of the poems in the collection, but I loved her poem “Kitchen Annunciation” which begins, “And the Lord appeared to her / as she scraped dishes at the sink. / And the Lord mumbled in her ear…” Then there’s “A Short History of Sublime Moments on Hold” which goes: “Press one if you’d like to speak to Attila the Hun. / Press two if your Jacuzzi is filled with eels.” And lastly, “Gratitude Prayer” begins: “Thanks for the rickety body, which lends us form!”
The tone is sharp and funny, and the poems are odd and beautiful and unexpected. After reading this volume, I immediately ordered more of her work.
In an article in the LA Times, she had this to say about poetry:
"Who do you write for?" I once asked her in an e-mail. She wrote back right away: ". . . with contemporary poetry having approximately as many fans outside the immediate field as there are devotees of undergoing knee surgery, any sentient breathing reader who's genuinely interested in poetry . . . not scared of it . . . seems a godsend. . . . Ideally, I'd love to write poems that intrigued humans across the board: literary folk and academics as well as . . . dog-walkers, doctors, plumbers, chefs, math professors, jugglers, etc. . . . "
Now, as she sips her coffee, I ask why she thinks people are afraid of poems.
She furrows her brow. "See, many people, including me, are afraid of looking or feeling stupid. It's OK not to understand particle physics. But poetry that's dense and complex and difficult to read? The threat is implicit: If you don't understand poetry, you don't have a beautiful soul." In high school, she remembers, "If you did something bad you had to memorize Tennyson's 'The Charge of the Light Brigade.' " Poetry as punishment -- but she has a solution. "It should be taught chronologically backward," she says. Her idea is to introduce contemporary forms like rap and spoken word before "Beowulf" and Chaucer. In that way, we'd cultivate a palate for poetry.
I think this is a brilliant idea – to teach poetry chronologically backwards. Let’s start with the 21st century and work our way back. That makes so much sense doesn’t it? And meanwhile, if you read poetry at all, if you’re drawn to the way the light falls on the dishes in your kitchen sink, if you care about anyone, if you loved your dog, if you ever noticed how “curtains so faithfully translate the language of wind” then, I think we can agree you have a beautiful soul.
I have yet to read Maria Popova’s latest book, Figuring, (soon though!) but this is a quotation from it:
“I mean the soul simply as shorthand for the seismic core of personhood from which our beliefs, our values, and our actions radiate.”
I’m not sure, these days, what I’m radiating….but I’m giving thanks for my rickety body, and remembering what a miracle it is that dogs last as long as they do….