Some days it really is more important to read a poem than to crack out the laptop for yet more email, and this second-to-last-commute in National Poetry Month has just provided such a moment. I didn’t really have intentions to read almost nothing but poetry in April; it just sort of happened that between reading the Poem-a-Day that comes to my inbox (thanks, friend, you know who you are) and my library’s robust borrowing system, I’ve had a slim volume tucked into the short backpack pocket all month. Some inbox poems are deleted quickly, some are saved, and some have enough verve to move me to find a book of that poet’s work.
Today I’m in a second book[i] written by a new favorite. I bought a copy of the book I read last week, and here, now, in the middle of a second, chai latte in hand and in a full train car, I’ve had to stop reading and put the book down…a sure sign of something wonderful. What is a wonderful, remarkable poem, you ask? And how do you know when you’ve just read one?
It’s easy to say ”you just know” and, to some extent, that’s true. But there is more. What is also true is that a wonderful poem pulls you from the page of a book to a page in your heart. It stirs from your memory something that lasts longer than the moment you are actually remembering. The poem I just read, “The Piano Speaks after Erik Satie,” caught my breath in my throat and transported my gaze immediately out the window, across the horizon to look back at a concert at the kids’ school in which a wonderful, classically trained pianist prepared and gave a performance to last a lifetime. I could see her in my mind’s eye: her memorization, the hours of practice, the devotion, the stamina, the desire. I recalled the silence when she finished, the burst of applause and, even more than the long, standing ovation, the awareness each audience member had of the fact that we had just witnessed something much greater than the sum of all our parts. For those few minutes, we had seen the work of a master.
How deserving and right, then, to take a moment before this day begins to not only re-appreciate the performer and performance we witnessed then but also today’s humble poet who, through her hands, wrote down what she heard, never knowing who, or where, or what difference her words would make on a chilly April morning, on a train ride into Boston, during (our 20th!) National Poetry Month. Thank you, dear pianists, for all you’ve given the world. And thank you, poet Sandra Beasley, for helping us hear melody in all the madness.
[i] Beasley, Sandra. I Was the Jukebox. New York: Norton, 2010.