I’ll be honest. I like the idea of poetry. I like to think I have the intellectual capacity to enjoy poetry. Years ago, when Kay Ryan was Poet Laureate of our country I listened to an interview with her on All Things Considered where she read some of her work. There was something about her writing – maybe the subtle humor or the economy of words. As soon as Ryan’s interview was over I ordered her book Say Uncle. And because I ordered the book online rather than driving to my local bookstore (which should have been my first choice) I never gave myself the chance to change my mind. The slim volume arrived in days as expected. I opened it once and then, for years, it sat on my shelf. A visual reminder that I like the idea of poetry.
A few days ago I received a package in the mail from one of my best friends in high school. Back then she was the person I wanted to be. Intelligent. I mean – Merit Scholar intelligent. Funny. Funny in that subtle sort of way that sneaks up and then the next thing you know cafeteria milk is spewing from your nose. Supportive and kind. I know that memories shift and change – but all these decades later I still remember how, in high school, in her own quiet way, she made me feel that I could do anything. I didn’t believe her, of course, but it felt wonderful to have someone in my life who saw the light in me. The thing is, she didn’t know she was doing this for me. It was just who she was. Who she is.
We lost touch in the 1980’s and 90’s but reconnected around the time that I returned from Ireland. When my sister died alone and estranged from my mother and me, it was this dear friend who opened the door to her home and helped me find Margaret’s grave.
And so it was no surprise and it put a smile on my face when I picked up the package from my doorstep and saw it was from her. My first thought after ripping open the padded manila envelope was, ‘Geez – that’s a big book of poetry!’. But the card accompanying the gift explained that the poet was local and was one of her favorites. In the past she had sent me books by Annie Dillard and Patti Smith’s autobiography Just Kids – books that I loved. I knew she wouldn’t send me anything I couldn’t handle. Plus the poet had written this inside the front cover for me:
Mimm! I hope these mad moments in verse hold a song for you. Welcome home!
What was I to do? Given that I like the idea of poetry I had no option but to sit down, open the book, and read.
The book is Voodoo Libretto: New & Selected Poems by Tim Seibles, who happens to be a past Poet Laureate of Virginia.
And now, each morning when my brain is fresh (I tried the evening but by then my brain can no longer absorb nuance, cadence and beauty) I open Voodoo Libretto to a random page and read a poem. Seibles’ autobiographical writing is sexy and funny, surprising and relevant. Heartbreaking. On the printed page the words have a jazz cool visual rhythm and when I begin to read my eyes carry me and I can’t seem to stop.
Curious? Maybe start with his Alison Wolff. And maybe, in a few weeks of mornings I’ll need to diversify a bit and open that slim little book by Kay Ryan. Or Basho if I’m in the mood for three lines of Haiku. Or Ferlinghetti.
Because I like the idea of poetry.
And I’m so happy that my high school friend, who I looked up to with awe in 1974 and still do now, knows that about me.