TBR Challenge Book #1

In college I procrastinated consistently, every assignment finished at the last minute. Do not think anything is different because I am years wiser (yeah right) or assigned twelve TBR Challenge books to myself, one to be finished each month. I completed A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver on the night of January 30th, just in time with one more day to spare.

I purchased this book at Half Price Books, the name Mary Oliver ringing a bell. I first heard one of her poems read by Kathleen Norris at the 2005 Image conference. The poem's title is forgotten, but I jotted down Oliver's name in my notebook. I Googled Mary Oliver, finding poems such as At Great Pond, Mockingbirds, When Death Comes, and several others. Initially I liked her style and how she captured nature in a frame of words. Johnny gave me a Mary Oliver collection and I try to read at least one poem a day.

For me, poetry is sheer mystery. When I read poetry, I am quite in awe of a poet's ability to paint with language and often describe the mundane with elegance. On a few different occasions (as I might have said before) people have labeled me a poet or decided I have the mind of one. I am still undecided whether or not they are correct, but seeing as I love to write, I decided I better find out for myself.

Hence A Poetry Handbook. It did not provide an epiphany, but I thoroughly enjoyed the reading. Upon e-mailing to my Mom excitement over re-learning definitions of mutes, semivowels, iambic pentameter, assonance, trochee, spondee, etc., she said my grandmother, her Mom, an English teacher, is surely smiling down from Heaven with reciprocal excitement. Of course, at some point while reading this book I felt overwhelmed. I tried to glue each term and morsel of Mary Oliver's wisdom on my brain, but I used faulty adhesive. So much information! Great advice, though, and I decided A Poetry Handbook is an excellent reference manual - for beginners like me or even more experienced poets. It is a little tome I can refer back to again and again as I write bad poems in attempts to learn if I am indeed a poet or not. This could take years.

My favorite chapters were "Sound" and "Imagery." Imagery may be my favorite aspect of a poem, but many other slants of writing go along with a shimmering metaphor: length, rhythm, rhyme or no, diction, tone, voice, and revision. And Oliver stressed the importance of reading a spectrum of poetry - traditional poems of the past as well as contemporary poetry. I am more drawn to contemporary poetry (or free verse) and I don't have a strong desire to rhyme, but Oliver made an interesting and important point: "Acquaintance with the main body of English poetry is absolutely essential - it is clearly the whole cake, while what has been written in the last hundred years or so, without meter, is no more than icing. ... Free verse, after all, developed from metrical verse. And they are not so very different. One is strictly patterned; one is not. But both employ choice of line-length, occasional enjambment, heavy and light stresses, etc.."

Reading my poetry collection is where I will remain for a bit longer, but sooner than not I plan to delve into writing and see whether or not a poet lurks inside me. I want to do likewise with fiction. I no longer listen to internal lies that whisper my 30's are too late to begin. I think the truth is I would be a coward not to try both, pin down the mystery, the words, the characters...or at least keep them in a loose corral.

Mary Oliver also stated, "Language is rich, and malleable. It is a living, vibrant material, and every part of a poem works in conjunction with every other part - the content, the pace, the diction, the rhythm, the tone - as well as the very sliding, floating, thumping, rapping sounds of it." I can see this, and I believe that is why my favorite Bible verse about Jesus is John 1:14, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Human scrawled words are glorious because they image the Word, don't you think? We get to flesh them out, if you will. Sometimes I think of poets as prophets, their poems as prayers, and both as teachers to pilgrims - me, you, readers, students, and this wide, grand world. Mary Oliver's Rules for the Dance is on my wish list, hopefully to be read before the 2008 TBR Challenge.

TBR Challenge book #2: Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry, the second book I've read set in Houston, TX. Please leave a comment if you know of other novels set in Houston.

No comments: