My oldest daughter is deep into a unit on poetry in her senior English class, and loving it. However, as accomplished as she may be in the toughest classes her school offers, she was initially daunted by writing about poetry. Not having done it for an assignment for some time, feeling generally uncertain about how to approach an area of experience whose “rules” are so difficult to discern on first glance (and sometimes on second or third), anxious about wading into a discipline whose reputation for difficulty and distance is somehow wordlessly conveyed before we know we have internalized it, she was understandably apprehensive.
I was honored and delighted when she asked me to talk to her about poetry. I was an undergraduate writing major with rigorous training in prosody and a humane, constructive brand of literary analysis (aimed at understanding, appreciation, and emulation—thank you Mary Kinzie, a welcome contrast to the critical dissection and reduction to nihilistic nothingness I encountered in graduate school—no thanks to you, Yale school of Deconstruction). I love poetry, and find that there is really nothing that raises my consciousness and my expectations for daily delight in my life more reliably than the regular reading of it. Having her read poems aloud to me in the car on a long drive to a track meet, and our ensuing discussion, has brought this delight to new levels (as has reading the poetry and prose written by my younger daughter in and out of Young Women Writing for a Change offerings).
My recent poetry explorations with my firstborn have been such fun. She has introduced me to amazing poems by I authors I thought I knew (how could I never have read Sharon Olds’ 1987 Summer Solstice, New York City?), and allowed me to rediscover the soul-opening loss of equilibrium of first approaching poems from poets whose worlds of experience I had not known. Figuring out the new, self-defining universe of a poem from the inside out with a growing sense of exploration and assurance provides a microcosm of gaining understanding and appreciation in life. I love to hear the sly observations and different perspectives she brings to poems I love, which make them new for me. Most of all, I love witnessing the blossoming confidence and enjoyment of my own beloved child in entering an artistic world that has brought me such pleasure, comfort and enjoyment.
Incidentally, we learned with mutual delight the other night that she is reading The Aeneid in the same edition I used in fourth year Latin in my high school a million years ago. In a difficult year in my life where my parents had moved to a new city and left me behind, I was completely immersed in the tragic ancient world of this gorgeous epic poem. We were both giddy and elated, sharing our favorite set pieces and rhapsodizing about the beauty and sorrows of the destruction of Troy and of Dido, the capriciousness of the gods in waging their envious battles through the characters of the poem.
Now, sharing a love of poetry with my children would seem to be an achievable thing to hope for. Sharing a love of reading the Aeneid in the original Latin, not so much. My life is complete.
Mary for the Poplar Grove Muse