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resolution #53: read more poetry

Like many teenage girls, I used to write poetry. My poems (a term I am using very loosely, having just cringed my way through notebooks of them, which I discovered while cleaning out my closet) are mostly about love — of course. But because I grew up in the early ‘70’s, there are also a disproportionate number about the fact that war is not healthy for children and other living things.

In my teens, I voraciously read Emily Dickinson and listened to Joni Mitchell (still one of my all-time favorite writers – just spend an afternoon going through The Complete Poems and Lyrics, with or without musical accompaniment, and you’ll remember why you wore out your vinyl copy of Blue). They so eloquently and succinctly expressed what I so often felt.

Although this is really embarrassing, here is a poem from my 17-year-old self:

you used to laugh when i

told you my hopes, my desires.

i confided in you, poured out the

secret wishes from the depths

of my heart

and you waved them off as trivial.

i was reaching for the sky and you

were holding my hands back.

“keep dreaming,” you told me. “you’ll

never do anything really


you were wrong, though.

i left you.

I’m sharing this for a couple of reasons. One, to give you an example of really bad poetry so you can appreciate the really good kind. But, more importantly, to show you that even bad poetry has its place – in a notebook, journal or on a scrap of paper that’s meant only for you. I’ve been married for so long now that it’s hard to remember who I wrote that about, but the words gave me confidence and provided a solid way for me to express my feelings, take control of the situation and move on. Words on paper can be very powerful, and being able to turn to them again and again can be very comforting.

A couple of years after writing that poem, I met the love of my life and pretty much stopped writing poetry. I guess it’s true that art often comes from a dark place, and happiness can have an inverse effect on creating art.

I didn’t discover poetry again until my daughter was in high school and won the Iron Poet contest in her freshman English class (thank you, Jeannie Chufo, teacher extraordinaire, for inspiring both of us to explore and fall in love with poetry). Although I never felt compelled to start writing poetry again, I began sending e.e. cummings poems to my husband (“i carry your heart with me …”), devouring Mary Oliver’s work and buying all the books in Roger Housden’s Ten Poems to … series.

Recently, my good friend Midge Raymond – five second commercial break: if you haven’t read her short story collection, Forgetting English, stop right now and order it on Amazon. I promise you will be blown away. The writing is gorgeous and the stories are like tiny, amazing novels. Anyway, Midge graciously introduced me to the work of two brilliant female poets whose books need to be on your bedside table where you can sip and savor them and let their words languish in your head and heart.

Elizabeth Austen has written what just may be the modern female anthem. The title poem of her chapbook, The Girl Who Goes Alone, will take your breath away with its simplicity and truth. It is the kind of poem you want to share with your best friends and your daughters. Each poem in this slim but meaty volume is a gem, thanks to the poet’s mastery of language. Her On Punctuation should be required reading in every English class, and Her, at Two, which you can read in Sightline, should be carved into the headboard of every baby girl’s crib.

The poems of Susan Rich explore the world around and inside us with raw emotion and sensitivity. The words themselves are lyrical and often haunting, and titles like An Army of Ellipses Traveling Over All She Does Not Say … beckon you in with their humanity and universality. Her collection, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, is a warm and welcoming place which will feed and nurture your soul.

I know poetry can be intimidating and seem like a mishmash of words. But, trust me, if you spend some time with the poems I’ve talked about here, you will see – and feel – the surprising power and beauty of words which are hand-picked and lovingly placed together. Good poetry forces you to read slowly, think about what you’re reading and appreciate both the message and the way each word is used to convey that message.

Good poetry is that little flower growing out of the crack in a city sidewalk.


  1. GRACE
    by kate van raden

    My courage is a whisper,
    My conviction comes and goes,
    My love does not move mountains,
    I lose my way in woes,
    I’m clumsy with my blessings,
    I stumble through my chores,
    My virtue is not spotless,
    My only glory’s yours.

    When the landscape seems uncertain;
    Full of snares and sin,
    My eyes lose sight of sunlight
    My faith is sometimes thin…

    I’ll rise each day with purpose Lord;
    To share the gifts that I possess,
    To greet each stranger with your smile,
    To meet hate with tenderness.
    I try to choose the right from wrong;
    Resist boasting when I speak,
    I try to walk along your path,
    Though at times my will is weak.
    I try to lead with goodness
    When the choice is mine to make,
    I try to hold a humble heart
    And give more than I take.

    I lift my eyes towards you
    When I don’t know who I am,
    Because your strength makes me a lion
    With the grace to love a lamb…


  2. Randi Nervig says:

    I actually liked your 17-year-old poem. It’s a simple statement with great power. If I’d had such a boyfriend when I was 17, I doubt I would have had the strength of character to leave him.

  3. I really liked that poem also– still wondering who the mystery nasty person is! lol!

  4. oh I love your 17 year old self (along with the you, you are today)…my goodness such strength juxtaposed to my own late teenage self. Wonderful post Lois, truly a pleasure to read all of it.

  5. George and I used to read poetry to each other back in the day. I need to encourage that day….think I will:)) I look forward to reading Elizabeth Austen and I LOVE Mary Oliver (our present yoga instructor who comes to teach a group in our home for the past several years….reads OLiver after Savasana).

    Here is a poem I shared with Michael that I recently wrote which I have not yet found a title for:

    His breathy intake
    Soothes me
    Welcoming the sounds
    Of our shared night

    I have placed my finger
    Under his nose as I have with
    Our sweet baby girl
    To soothe breathlessness

    I prefer to share the air
    With those I love
    Hoping that the intermingling
    Ensures sustenance

    Thanks again for all of your words Lois….you inspire me to be better. I really appreciate feeling your love and warmth thru the miles in your most excellent blog. A literary friend of mine recommended Robert Pinsky’s book Singing School about writing poetry which I am going to borrow from our library. xxo

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