[Note from Frolic: Today, we welcome author Joani Elliott to the site. She has some thoughts on poetry to share. Take it away, Joani!]
Full disclosure. I’ve lived most of my life with only a few lines of Shel Silverstein floating around in my brain next to a forced memorization about the untimely and tragic death of someone named “Annabel Lee.” And until I started writing my debut novel a few years ago, this seemed like enough poetry for me. But that’s no big deal—right?
Except that I have two degrees in English, churned out papers on poetry in college, and taught writing at two major universities. One would think I’d have walked away from those experiences with a little more appreciation for poetry. Let’s say I respected it. I really did. But I wasn’t appreciating it. Or reading it. Or even really liking it.
Then came along my debut novel, The Audacity of Sara Grayson. I was working on it one morning when a character eased himself onto my writing desk and announced, in no uncertain terms, that not only was he important to my story, but he was also…a poet.
“I don’t think so,” I told him.
“No, I definitely am.”
“You don’t get to make these choices. I do.”
“I can assure you. I am a poet.” He’d grown a beard now. He stroked it with his thumb.
“Crap,” I said.
“There are better words,” he casually informed me.
“Yeah. Whatever.” I turned back to my computer. I knew who was boss.
But eventually I caved. He was quite persuasive, very good looking and he tossed me into the world of contemporary poetry. I needed to understand this new man in my life.
What had I been missing? Oh. So. Much.
I used to tell my middle school students that if they didn’t love reading, they just hadn’t found the right books. Apparently, I simply hadn’t discovered an entire world of poetry that resonated with my soul, my questions, my experience. Poet David Whyte calls poetry, “Language against which we have no defense.”
In a world and a society that moves too quickly, poetry invites presence, a kind of mindfulness, a slowing down, a spaciousness I need and crave. Poetry can calm, enlighten, distill a thought, a feeling, an emotion, an idea. How had I been living without the gifts of poetry?
I’ve now become that family member, that friend, posting poetry, emailing favorites to loved ones for comfort, inspiration, encouragement. Poetry has found its way into the rhythm of my home and even my parenting. My adult daughter and I share poetry frequently: “Have you read this one?” or “Here’s a new poet.” In a world of chronic isolation, poetry acts as connective tissue for humanity, answering the soul’s need to better understand ourselves and others, providing expression for our feelings, leading us in and out of one another’s hearts, minds, and experience.
I’m forty-eight and I don’t know how I managed those first four decades without a regular dose of poetry. It’s like that light bulb you’ve been meaning to replace in the kitchen, but it’s your partner’s turn to do it and it remains unchanged for weeks, possibly months until one of you gives up and changes the damn bulb. Suddenly it’s light and bright and lovely and beautiful and you think, how have I been choosing to live without this gorgeous light? That’s poetry for me. It’s all this illumination within our reach once we choose to gift ourselves this colorful light.
So dear friends, to anyone who loves romance, but not poetry. Or if you already enjoy poetry, but want some expansion, allow me to share a few poets who have brightened my own path. May they add light to your own.
- David Whyte – “Everything is Waiting for You” David’s Facebook page is a great resource as well, including his own video readings of his work.
- Naomi Shihab Nye – “Kindness”
- Tyler Knott Gregson “When I Saw You”
- Ada Limon “How to Triumph Like a Girl”
- Jenny Xie “Chinatown Diptych”
- Mary Oliver “Wild Geese”
- Jericho Brown, “Foreday in the Morning”
- Joy Harjo “Remember”
- Maggie Smith “Good Bones”
- Brad Aaron Modlin “What You Missed that Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade”
- Amanda Gorman – “The Hill We Climb”
- Barbara Ras “You Can’t Have it All”
- Other Resources
- Podcast – Poetry Unbound with poet Padraig O’Tuama: Short podcast with a single poem and brief thoughts.
- Podcast – The Slowdown with poet Tracy K. Smith: Short podcast with a single poem and brief thoughts.
- https://onbeing.org/poetry-home A resource for interviews with poets, poetry readings, and short poetry films.
- https://www.brainpickings.org Reader, writer, curator, Maria Popova highlights the work of many poets
- https://www.poetryfoundation.org/ The Poetry Foundation also has an app that allows you to “spin” for a variety of poems on topics you choose.
About the Author:
Joani Elliott believes in the magic of stories, a good cup of tea, and the power of living a creative life. She has taught writing at the University of Maryland and Brigham Young University. For book club resources, virtual author chats, and more, visit joanielliott.com.
The Audacity of Sara Grayson by Joani Elliott, out now!
What happens when the world’s greatest literary icon dies before she finishes the final book in her best-selling series?
And what happens when she leaves that book in the hands of her unstable, neurotic daughter, who swears she’s not a real writer?
Sara Grayson is a thirty-two-year-old greeting card writer about to land the toughest assignment of her life. Three weeks after the death of her mother–a world-famous suspense novelist–Sara learns that her mother’s dying wish is for her to write the final book in her bestselling series.
Sara has lived alone with her dog, Gatsby, ever since her husband walked out with their Pro Double Waffle Maker and her last shred of confidence. She can’t fathom writing a book for thirty million fans–not when last week’s big win was resetting the microwave clock.
But in a bold move that surprises even herself, Sara takes it on. Against an impossible deadline and a publisher intent on sabotaging her every move, Sara discovers that stepping into her mother’s shoes means stumbling on family secrets she was never meant to find–secrets that threaten her mother’s legacy and the very book she’s trying to create.