“I am half sick of shadows,” said
The Lady of Shalott.”
I have loved books as long as I can remember, but I did not always love poetry. It wasn’t until I read that line from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.” It was the first poem I understood fully without needing someone to explain the nuances. I was barely 13, but I felt that; “I am half sick of shadows…” The line still echoes within my gut and the poem is still my favorite.
Likewise, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 was special to me long before I spent a summer in England and Catherine Tate made it look cool. “I grant I never saw a goddess go;/My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.” The message that love and poetry are not reserved for the perfect spoke to my teenage insecurities and the parts of me that were just waking up to my own misperceptions about the world. Besides being told in beautiful language, it was a message that grew with me.
These were poems about things I believed in, that called to something inside of me that was still trying to find its way out. But my other favorite poems resonate because they’re about me, so ingrained within that I wouldn’t have been able to put them into words myself. So thank God someone else did.
I can’t remember how exactly I discovered Langston Hughes’ “Ballad of a Sinner.” “But I was bold,/Headstrong and wild./I did not act like/My mother’s child.” “Headstrong and wild” could be the title of my autobiography. (Come to think of it, note to self…) Even the invocation at the end (“Pray for me, Mama”) sounds like a song I could write. When I read it for the first time, I felt like someone actually understood me.
But that is nothing compared to “All Over America” by David Poston. I read it a dozen times in a row when I found it…and that’s not like me at all.
“they will find yet more beautiful disappointment
to turn into deathless verse.”
The beauty of writing enhanced by the mundane of the rest of it, how “mundane” is that way for a reason…writing as a way of coping with all that disappointment and how you love it a little bit more when you realize it isn’t “all ellos and lamb with rosemary”…because suddenly, it is accessible to you as a human person and not the next Shakespeare. I have tried to explain what writing means to me, and I will never come as close as this poem.
I love these poems because they are personal but, specifically, they tell a story that is personal. I’m not a poet; I can’t do that. These are the words that have stuck with me over years and years. Novels are great, but poetry has power that most people miss (myself included, for years) because it takes finding the ones that connect to your soul in order to understand how it works.