{National Poetry Month} On Commemoration

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On Commemoration by Natalya Lawren{guest writer}

via A Form of Healing

I never thought I could write a poem about a person– I’d read plenty, but there seemed to be no honest way to approach it. One day I was overcome by perhaps some overwhelming love, or tidal wave of some such emotion, and every once in a while I get the urge to write more specific-people-centric poems. I wouldn’t say I’m the most successful person to do such a thing, but the poems of people I write, I spend hours on the creation and editing. I lay out a careful schematic to express their spirit, and an earnestness to convey my love, and the honesty that draws out flaws like poison to my own lips, cherished as well. Maybe it is not flattering nor beautiful. I do not find strength to write poetry about a sole person that I hate, but there has been incisions of conflict, and my own insecurities, and poems I did not realize were even about a person until recently.

The following poem is going to be published in Literary & Arts magazine Calling Upon Calliope, 2015 as “A Portrait of Sparrow and Poppies.” It has since been further edited and retitled:

A Portrait of Sparrow in Field

way her shoulders

gather like a sparrows–

grace

her jubilee:

breathes soprano.

 

but be careful, see:

discerning more than

song (or) bird–

 

Love is in her sight and flung-out arms,

ferocious squawking

and limbs twitched

and silent scars

encompasses so much and for that

humanity homes in her

 

long awkward limbs

and transition from neck to chin

tilted upwards

she faces stars

I see her distant dreaming on the stage

moon skin and hair: a

shadow of elegant sway.

 

I am swayed.

I am follower,

resolute,

not for love nor muse,

but transfixed by that

lone balloon in the atmosphere,

the birds low dives across bike paths,

reaching for poetry because it is nearby

and an insatiable need to recognize the beautiful things,

 

my friend,

my steadfast metaphor

she is the flicker to the breeze,

the clean cut precision of a blade,

the balance of blustery day and sanctuary,

 

the inimitable determination of pain

each failure and argument and hate

sorrow and when there’s no grace in defeat

 

the hollow space in which we go to sleep

around us the world is unfolding mechanics

the respirator quiets–

pulse leads to poppies

 

she is among the fields

she is the bloom

 

sweet friend,

of bitter loss

and earnest dream.

Natalya Lawren, 2014.

Whether out of grief, compassion, despair, spite, or love, poets write not solely about what they love, but whom. They are not removed from meaningful relationships– indeed artists often seek more meaningful relationships that are a type of art in and of themselves. Thus comes the term of muse, a term which slowly became a reference not to gods, but an idol, a person who stands as a compulsion to write.

Whether people are depicted as vast and burning as a supernova, or the bitter brush of fingers, these characters populate poetry. Verse brings them up like angels or lays them out as fragile human bodies returned to dust. We mourn, we rejoice, we expel our anger upon the world. Sometimes it is a snapshot of a moment, and sometimes it is an amalgamation of the many different aspects of the person. Sometimes it is a direct image, and sometimes a portrait.

If you shattered poetry into it’s frequent subjects, poems about people form a prominent category. Take Shakespeare’s love sonnets for example– some of the best known people in history, even if anonymous. Another popular form is that of an elegy– a poet’s tears splattered so simply on a page to unravel into revelation and memorial.

 

Here is an excerpt of the definition of the term ‘elegy’, as defined in A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch:

elegy A poem of mortal loss and consolation. The word elegy derives from the Greek elegos, ‘funeral lament.’ It was among the first forms of the ancients, though in Greek literature it refers to a specific verse form as well as the emotions conveyed by it.

[…]

Since the sixteenth century, the elegy has designated a poem mourning the death of an individual or a solemn meditation on the passing of human life. The elegy does what Freud calls “the work of mourning.” It ritualizes grief into language and thereby makes it more bearable. The great elegy touches the unfathomable and originates in the unspeakable, in unacceptable loss. It allows us to experience mortality. It turns loss into remembrance and delivers an an inheritance. It opens a space for retrospection and drives a worldless anguish toward the consolations of verbal articulation and ceremony.

The sense of overwhelming loss that powers the poetry of lamentation exists in all languages and poetries.

Hirsch has also written a book-long elegy for his son, eponymously titled Gabriel. A portion describes Gabriel as:

 

Like a spear hurtling through darkness

He was always in such a hurry

To find a target to stop him

 

Like a young lion trying out its roar

At the far edge of the den

The roar inside him was even louder

 

Like a bolt of lightning in the fog

Like a bolt of lightning over the sea

Like a bolt of lightning in our backyard

 

Like the time I opened the furnace

In the factory at night

And the flames came blasting out

 

I was unprepared for the intensity

Of the heat escaping

As if I’d unsheathed the sun

 

This poetry is that selfless act of describing that also lets the individual come to terms with their emotions and perceptions. Perhaps these poems– elegies, love poems, ballads, even the occasional limerick, are born out of remembrance. They are  a commemoration. Formed from camaraderie. They can be a message– an interaction, a plea, a confession. They capture an intimation of that relationship, and a breathtaking image of the person as living on the page.

 

Poetry is powerful in society, and it is not because of only what is written of the object, experience or even humanity as a whole. It is the thought of the individual, and what is more human? What is more intimate?

 

It is a relationship. In school, I’ve been told that whenever analyzing something, I should look at the author. Who is the poet, separated from me by distance and time? They must’ve loved somebody, or perhaps grieved in that they loved nobody. Maybe I love their far-off lady too, I grieve as well as they.

As I mentioned on Day 2, poetry should not be isolating. There are people behind the words, and communities of these people who write together, and people expressed by the words they weave. You are a person, reader, so let’s address that too.

This web becomes meta. The reader, the poet, the subject of each person’s different impression and whim are all on display here, so closely interconnected.

 

I encourage everyone to go out and be around one another. Describe what strikes you about them and write it all down. Read poems about and addressing people and imagine the poet and people involved.

 

Contemplation is good. It allows us to fully love and understand people.

 

Action is also good. It creates community, and drives us to participate in each other’s live. It has us communicate and share our appreciation with the people we are with.

 

This is what stands through time and space, hardships and distractions of even the best sort.

Don’t wait until Valentine’s Day to share your feelings through poetic form.

Whether it be a letter, or a limerick, or a conversation, I am attempting to bring National Poetry Month as a spur towards living life fully and looking at poetry as it truly stands. Not an obligation or assignment, but something to be cherished in the way that it cherishes and contributes to the world. Cherish words. Cherish people.

 

Suggested reading list– poems about people:

Edward Hirsch’s Gabriel  (Knopf, 2014). A book-length elegy for his son.

Larry Levis’s “Photograph: Migrant Worker, Parlier, California, 1967” from his book Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

Li-Young Lee’s “Mnemonic” from his book Rose (BOA Editions ltd, 1993)

“Daddy” by Sylvia Plath

“Marriage” by Sara Michas-Martin from Gray Matter (Fordham, 2015)

“The Word Damn and the Word God” by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum from the book Ghost Gear (Arkansas Press, 2015)

“This is the Pink” by David J. Daniels from his book Clean (Four Way Books, 2015)

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