I love words. I love poetry. I love stories. I love books, and if I weren't so tired at the end of the day, I might be able to read more than one paragraph before falling asleep. There were close to 20 years in my life when words poured out of me. Yes, quite a bit of it was during my manic phase, but still, I lived and breathed words and ideas. I haven't lived that way now for nearly another 20 years.
I miss that fire in my brain, the way it would connect and pull out old, archaic words and phrasing and be exactly right for the emotion or experience I was trying to convey. Of course, when you're manic, things you write at 3 in the morning are absolutely brilliant! Looking back at them now, some of it is still very good, while a great deal more of it appears to be trial and error. My poor friend L had to read through them all and copy them down. She should receive Sainthood for that alone. She never once laughed at me or told me I was crazy.
So where did this love of words come from? I wouldn't say I grew up in an illiterate household, but I don't remember any books around the house other than school books and the occasional Reader's Digest collected works books that my mother sometimes got in the mail and would shove under the china cabinet and forget.
I remember watching Sesame Street and the Electric Company and just loving the rhyming segments and the sing-songy musical numbers they did. But that wasn't what did it. I still remember the day I tuned in to poetry. I was 7 years old and in Miss Flood's second grade class. I remember that I was half paying attention as she was reading poetry to the class. She read the following bit from Emily Dickinson:
I Never Saw A Moor
I never saw a moor
I never saw the sea
Yet I know how the heather looks
and what a wave must be
That jarred my ears and I immediately raised my hand and said, "that's not right." Miss Flood questioned why I thought it wasn't right and I told her, "it should say, I never saw a moor, I never saw a sea, yet know I how the heather looks and what a billow be." I was so convinced she read it wrong that she had to show me the book she was reading from. Still, something stuck in my gut that this wasn't right. Later I would go to the public library (yes as a 7 year old, I would get in trouble for this more than once) and found a collection of poems with the librarian's help. She also brought me a number of Emily Dickinson books. Most of them had the version that the teacher read, while I remember finding one version of the poem as I knew it. "I knew I was right." Who knows where I must have heard it before (PBS possibly), but it stuck.
Well, that impulse satisfied, I began reading other poets in the collection book and came across Christina Rosetti, the Brownings, Yeats and other classic Romantics. I was hooked! I could not get enough of the death, dying, eternal love and life themes. I know this is not the usual fare for a 7 year old, but I was already questioning where I came from, trying to make sense of strange memories in my head, wondering about dying and what happened then, so these poets spoke to me in a way Sesame Street never could. They gave me comfort that I wasn't alone, reassurance that some things survived and even transcended time.
When I Am Dead
When You Are Old
After reading these poems, I remember writing down all my favorites in a notebook that I could carry around with me and read whenever I needed reassurance. I progressed on to other poets eventually, but I did go through a few years with the Romantics, and then later many years with Dickinson.
Another poem that haunted me was "Nancy Hanks," a poem about Abraham Lincoln's mother. Here's a lady in a hospital reciting it. I can see this being me when I'm old and out of it, still reciting poetry.
I had hoped to pass my love of words onto my children. My daughter seemed to attach to it quite young and always asked for me to read a number of her favorite poems before bedtime. She still keeps her childhood poetry books. My son veered more toward music and old folk songs, but hey, there was poetry in the lyrics, so that was fine.
I ran a daycare when my daughter was little so I could afford to stay at home with her. I used to read to the children everyday. Some days I would perform Jaberwocky for the kids, usually when it was dark and stormy out. I believe fear in young children can be healthy when controlled. At least none of the parents complained their kids were having nightmares.
My daughter was enthralled as a toddler when I would act out and recite Jaberwocky to her and the other children in my daycare. Even once she was grown she remembered. She told a boyfriend about it and when she brought him home she wanted me to do Jaberwocky for him. Of course performing for 2 year olds and 20 year olds is quite different and since I hadn't done it in nearly 20 years, I wasn't sure I could remember all the lines anymore. So here's a young Kate Burton (daughter of Richard Burton) reciting the lines. Now just imagine a crazy mom/daycare provider crawling around the floor with 2 year olds acting out each scary bit. :-)
Was poetry ever fun for you?