Poetry is a Deserved and Necessary Extravagance

by lisa st john

PoetryIsTheShadowCastByOurStreetlightImaginationsByLawrenceFerlinghettiInJackKerouacAlley

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.
Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest external horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives. (
Audre Lorde)

The workshop guru said we must fight. Poetry is dying because we over-test the students. “Where is the short story? Where are the poems in your curriculum?” she demands.

I teach high school students. I try and also integrate the language arts. I cannot do a poetry unit for the same reason that I can’t really buy into Black History Month. Poetry is embedded in all my units. Black history is American history, isn’t it? Do I wait to teach the syncopation of Langston Hughes until February? Do I hold off on Zora Neale Hurston or Toni Morrison until “their month” arrives? How do you read Frankenstein without reading Percy Bysshe Shelley or looking at the paintings of William Blake? How do you read Tim O’Brien without writing collage and found poetry? I guess I m not good at separating the arts into little egg cartons. Eggs are too easily broken.

So I go to writing workshops like Nina Shengold’s Word Cafe, and rejoice in the publication and popularity of Chronogram (in print no less). And I nod in understanding when Gretchen Primack describes poetic form as a “lattice for your roses.”

I smile at the incredulity of teachers when they find out my oh-so-optional Poetry Elective (pass/fail—no credit) is full.

I laugh a full belly-laugh when a students says, “Look at that kid—he looks like a purple crayon!” And then I tell the student that he has the start of a poem.

I take them on field trips to hear poets like Tina Chang at SUNY Ulster. I am thrilled when they buy her book or want a picture. Who says poets cannot be celebrities?

When I Google the phrase “21st century poetry” I get 11,200,000 hits. That’s not so bad. Google used to be a number spelled googol and then it was a noun and now it’s a verb. Poetry used to be oral, sung; it changed to include the written, recited, slammed, recorded (audio and visual), animated, mashed, digitized. The word “poetry” comes from the Greek, meaning “to create.”

It’s not going away any time soon. I need poetry like I need cooked food. If I only ate grass, I’d be a sheep.

My first chapbook, Ponderings, is being published by Finishing Line Press. In case you did plan to purchase a copy but haven’t gotten around to it yet– now would be a propitious time to do it.

The number of copies sold before May 8th determines the size of the pressrun, which explains this gentle reminder.

If you have signed up for a copy already I THANK YOU and hope you enjoy it. They will be shipping in July 2015.

You can click this link, or go to the website at http://www.finishinglinepress.com/ (new releases) or send a check to:
Finishing Line Books PO Box 1626 Georgetown, KY 40324

I wrote the following poem at a Word Cafe Workshop with a collaboration of teaching and writing and not separating in mind.

“Sonnet for Adam: Denied Donation”

I would leave off a line for you,
not a whole couplet, obviously, but—
a line. Oh Adam, you are not the first.
So many bled—ahead—to pave this way.

At least you had the guts to tell the truth.
You say, “Heighten your attention. See Me.”
“Come back next year,” they told you yet again.
You say, “Listen to truth with wider eyes.”

To savor your story will take longer
than one Stonewall and a few thousand lives.
For you, Adam, for you—oh! Not the first.
For you, the blood will come around again.

See me. See me. Anapest just this once.

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