I had planned to post this essay on Monday April 15, to mark the Ides of National Poetry Month. However, my personal life—and the life of the World—intervened. My personal concerns are mine to deal with. My life as a poet/writer and citizen of the World is another matter; and events of the past few days have upended my focus and plans.
First, there was the terrible fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris on Monday, which left me feeling speechless, yet at the same time compelled to write some inadequate words of sorrow, sympathy, and loss on my personal Facebook page. As television coverage emerged over the course of the day, especially the eerily familiar images of the two towers and the toppling of the flaming spire, I took strange comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone in my emotional comparison of the sight to the horrors of 9/11. (Whether I can craft a poem about this remains to be seen.) Later in the evening, I drew spiritual comfort from the sounds of Parisians singing beautiful, ancient hymns of faith. Still later, I was relieved to learn of the heroic and successful efforts by church staff and firefighters to save priceless icons from destruction, and of God’s grace and mercy in preserving the Rose stained glass. Finally, on MSNBC’s The Last Word, host Lawrence O’Donnell ended his program with a stunningly hopeful commentary on what the World lost—but more important, what the World will gain—in the never-ending story of human civilization as the Cathedral of Notre Dame is rebuilt in the coming days, years, and centuries.
Second, there was the Poetic Justice of Tiger Woods’ incredible comeback on Sunday to win another green jacket at Augusta, especially considering Mother Nature’s fury of tornadoes across the South, which caused the match to be played early and televised later in the day.
While all this was happening on Sunday, I was spending the day with my friend and fellow writer, Lynne Spigelmire Viti [https://stillinschool.wordpress.com], who had invited me to attend a poetry reading here in Baltimore. We began our day with a light lunch at the Bird in Hand Café near the Homeland campus of Johns Hopkins University. From there, we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art (also on the outskirts of Hopkins), to take in some art exhibits before our main event, The Joshua Ringel Memorial Poetry Reading, featuring two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey. Ms. Trethewey proceeded to dispense her own kind of Poetic Justice, reading poems from her latest volume, Monument, a collection of new and previously published work. After purchasing and receiving a signed copy of her book, I was thrilled to spend time with her, along with friends old and new, at a dinner in her honor. It was late when Lynne and I left the Museum, but I delighted in giving her a quick tour of our shared hometown and childhood neighborhoods as I drove her back to her hotel.
And now, let me end where I’d planned to begin. As I hinted in the title, I have not written a single poem this month! I am not the most prolific writer around, but at the midpoint of National Poetry Month, I’ve only written 3 poems this entire year of 2019! Two of the poems have appeared on this blog, and the third has been submitted for consideration elsewhere. But poetry is still happening, as evidenced not only by my grand Sunday experience, but also in my recent explorations of other successful, published poets.
At the beginning of April, a dear friend of mine gave me the newest volume of poetry by the current U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, called Wade in the Water. I eagerly read the entire book, including the copious annotations of sources, both literary and historical, used in composing many of the poems. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that Ms. Smith is the April Guest Editor for firstname.lastname@example.org, an online publication of the Academy of American Poets, which my friend Lynne had encouraged me to follow, starting last year! This moment of serendipity both encouraged me and caused me great despair, as I considered my own history as a struggling, barely published poet.
My “great despair” springs from my sense that I will never reach my imagined ideal of being a “successful,” widely published/widely read writer of any sort, never mind a poet. And yet I say, “barely published,” because I’ve been a published poet since my high school days. In my junior year at Western High School (Baltimore), I published several pieces in our poetry magazine Paradox after receiving encouragement, not from an English teacher, but from my favorite History teacher. The following year, I was selected to be Editor-In Chief of that publication! Years later, I published several more poems in a now-defunct newsletter (published by the former mental health organization DRADA) called Smooth Sailing.
But, enough of downing myself! The fact remains that writing itself is the wellspring of my life. I cannot go one day without writing stories, observations, or wisdom learned from my time on this Earth. Whether in personal journals, essays and poems on this blog, or newspaper editorials, my calling is to write.
Happy National Poetry Month!
Go write—and read—some verse!