“Why Don’t People Write More Poetry?”

Why I Wake Early book cover by Mary Oliver

That’s the question my friend G. asked me today. She’s just a few years older than me and has had a dozen strokes; the doctors don’t know why. She struggles with words — fidgets with her hands as if trying to create  words out of invisible clay — and her short term memory is shot. But she gets poetry.

During my visit today, I brought along “Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver, the poet known for revealing the marvelous in her minute observations of nature. For some reason, I’d dog eared the poem “October.” When I started to read it, I immediately thought I’d made a mistake. It’s written in seven numbered sections with abstract imagery in which Oliver seems to hover above a scene. Gail was intrigued, had me read it seven times. As she listened she closed her eyes, enraptured.

When I read “Peonies,” she picked up on the phrase “beauty the brave,” and repeated it over and over. That one we read three times. Then “Goldenrod.” She loved the language of it, the assonance of “rumpy bunches,” the alliteration of “dumb dazzle.” She rolled the phrases around in her mouth like marbles. I don’t know how many times we read that one.

When I read her the last few lines, in which the goldenrods “bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,/they rise in a stiff sweetness/in the pure peace of giving/one’s gold away,” I told her that she has gold to give — her unfettered love and sense of humor. Though her abilities have changed, her value has not. If anything she is more cherished than ever by those who love her.

We almost didn’t make it past the first line of “Blue Iris”: Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?

Each time I started down the 15-line poem, she laughed and stopped me.

Why don’t more people write poetry, or at least read it?



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3 responses to ““Why Don’t People Write More Poetry?”

  1. Jan West

    Love this post Betsy. You’ve inspired me to read some poetry. This poet’s work anyway. Anyone who can join a couple of words and make them jingle like “rumpy bunches” deserves a second look. Or a first! 😊 And what a wonderful friend you are to G. Thanks as always for your writing. Love to read it.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Ellen Carleson

    Always getting to the core of things, Bets. Why don’t we?

    • We actually talked about that! More people don’t write poetry because most Americans don’t read poetry, and they don’t read poetry because they aren’t (really) taught to enjoy poetry… and it’s not very visible in popular culture although spoken word is gaining some traction. I find poetry so inspiring. It triggers so many thoughts and feelings that aren’t otherwise accessible to me. Relating to music seems to be innate among Americans, but not poetry. It’s up to you, El! Teach the preschoolers!

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