Reading and Writing – National Poetry Month

In All Those Words


I am a lake,

with boats of books

crossing over me. 

Namah McKay, written as a third grader


      I’ve stockpiles of books on shelves, on tables, AS tables, behind closed doors.  Yesterday, I uncrated Ron Padgett’s “Creative Reading, ” which included an untitled poem about reading by Namah, quoted above.  Of one thing I’m certain.  I have never left reading.  I  don’t recall learning to read, but my lake is crammed full with boatloads of books. 

     I do remember learning to write, scribbling lines across the page as I desperately wanted to write cursive.   I knew I had not even learned to print the basic block letters yet, but in swooping strokes I pretended to write.  I vaguely recall wanting to write books.  I’m not sure when I left writing.  

     And I’m not sure when I came to poetry the first time–probably nursery rhymes–maybe the King James Version of the bible–perhaps something in first year English lit class struck some melodic chord.  Maybe it was memorizing The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales :

WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote,

And bathed every veyne in swich  licour

     I’m not sure when I left poetry.   I don’t recall exactly when I came back again.  But I think in my late 30’s, maybe early 40’s, I began to think I had something to say.  I began to wonder who I was.   I returned to writing.  I came back to poetry again, or, more accurately, poetry came back to me.  My ears needed to hear what was in those poems.  I needed to see what was written down by the others who were speaking. 

     As young Namah speaks so metaphorically of  the reading experience, I began to read boatloads of poets. I discovered them once again in anthologies and slim, often brittle volumes.  In the works of somewhat familiar sounding names like Anne Bradstreet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson,  and many countless others I re-entered the murky waters of poetry.  On this journey I was seeking a woman’s perspective.   Out of the boatloads of books that floated above me, women’s voices were rising.  I couldn’t always understand their message, but I felt empowered.  

     Sandra Martz, one of the persons I admire so much, did a lot to bring attention to women’s voices when she re-introduced the world to Jenny Joseph’s “Warning” – more familiar for its first line:  “When I’m an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.”  She did so much to bring Joseph’s voice and the other voices she selected for all the anthologies she edited to the forefront.  Her contribution seemed enormous especially to women like me–far removed from the world of academia where poetry seemed to reside, guarded in sacred halls written by mostly older men.  I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to see that Sandra was the first person to subscribe to my blog.  What an honor and thrill that gave me.  I hope you read her blog which is linked in the sidebar.

     Today while driving home from a plein air painting session, I heard Michel Martin speak my name on NPR’s “Tell Me More” radio program.  I heard her say my home town’s name.  I heard my voice read a tweet as part of  #TMMPoetry on Twitter.  I became part of the Muses and Metaphor of  “Tell Me More’s”  National Poetry Month selection. 

     Michel, along with the curator of the series, Holly Bass, gave my tweet a new little boat to cross over your lake because you don’t have to read it on Twitter.  You can listen to me read it to you.  The boats that deliver the written words are changing.   But it’s still about the words being put down in some sort of form one after the other.  None of my words would have happened upon a page if a child long ago had not learned to read, had not learned to write, had not memorized poetry–the demands of  insightful teachers in a world where critical thinking relied, in part, upon the knowledge held in those poems. 

     I could not be having as much joy writing if I had not continued to delve into the poetic world, overflowing with wonderful, plentiful words.  And it would not be such a special moment for me right now if you were not out there,  dear readers, dear listeners.  Without you, my words would had have no special place to be today.  I’m not sure who reads any of these words, but thank you.  You make all the difference.


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