Reading Poetry is Deeply Grounding Amidst the Crazy Shit that Life Brings

This weekend, WordPress, the technology the powers Improvised Life, inexplicably resent emails of a post I published a month ago alerting readers that I needed to take time off due to the havoc a tiny leak wrought in my space.  It seems its artificial intelligence was feeling how tired I was from moving house twice in a month while my wrecked floors were repaired, and felt the need to alert readers. Alarmed, a number of readers wrote to make sure I was okay. I am fine, though tired, and grateful to be home, even as I live amidst moving boxes.

Sally Schneider

One of the things that kept me sane through the massive upheaval of the past months — from the strangely violent water remediation process to moving everything I own in and out of a nearby apartment —was reading a poem every morning, a practice I’ve maintained for years. I took an open carton of books — Stonehouse, Rumi, John Cage, haiku… — to draw on.

The first morning in my new surroundings down the hall, I opened Poetry 180, A Turning Back to Poetry, an anthology of poems selected by Poet Laureate Billy Collins, to this:

96 Vandam

I am going to carry my bed into New York City tonight
complete with dangling sheets and ripped blankets;
I am going to push it across three dark highways
or coast along under 600,000 faint stars.
I want to have it with me so I don’t have to beg for
too much shelter from my weak and exhausted friends.
I want to be as close as possible to my pillow
in case a dream or a fantasy should pass by.
I want to fall asleep on my own fire escape
and wake up dazed and hungry
to the sound of garbage grinding in the street below
and the smell of coffee cooking in the window above.

—Gerald Stern

It was at once comforting and affirming to have the yearning for home I felt expressed so perfectly, in an expressive, non-linear language that antidoted the endless list-making I’d spent days doing.  It took me out of myself into another world that reflected back the commonality of my deep attachment to my home, bed, morning coffee…

Sally Schneider

A poem by Stonehouse, a hermetic Buddhist monk who lived in the fourteenth-century, provided a whole other mindset for a moment, along with plums and gardenias…

What’s gone is already gone
and what hasn’t come needs no thought
right now I’m writing a right-now line
plums are ripe and gardenias in bloom

The language swept me OUT of my reality and into another, through the mysterious way of poetry that was perfectly defined by a third grader…

A poem is an egg with a horse in it.

 

With thanks to David Saltman for the sublime definition of poetry, and for Susan Dworski for the book sent in the nick of time.

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