Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Readers of Literature

Dear readers of all types of literature including but not limited to comic books,

I love reading all types of books.  However, there are two types of literature that I’ve never really been particularly interested in – science fiction, and poetry.  The science fiction genre is a story for another day; but I’ve recently found a book on poetry that has kindled my imagination. 

I always found poetry too boring to read; for me, it takes more energy to understand than prose, and sometimes the poems just seem slapped together with more care given to rhyme than reason.  However, one quarter I took a class from a brilliant English teacher, Tracey Heinlein, and she assigned a textbook that gave me a fairly basic understanding of the fundamentals of poetry – assonance, stanzas, villanelles (which have nothing to do with villains), and an astute appreciation for alliteration.  I’ve always had a passion for onomatopoeic words being used as emotional leverage in prose, so I was delighted to encounter poems like Player Piano by John Updike.  I enjoyed reading the poems with the textbook’s interpretations, criticisms, and technical explanations.  They enlightened me as to the beauty of poetry, and the true depth and skill it takes to write really, really good poetry. 

I have always had a favorite poem, written by a poet I admired very much – The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I visited his home in Portland, Maine and was enamored of the grooved desk, the tiny garden, the glazed porcelain. 

But, aside from that outstanding poem, for years I did not find that it behooved me to read poetry.  I skipped over the excerpts from Tennyson in Anne of Green Gables because I found the descriptions of limpid pools and snow-frosty mornings excruciatingly dull and wanted to get to the meat of the story. 

But one fateful day at a garage sale, I found a book of poetry that has struck me as some of the most beautiful works I have ever read - in prose or poetry.  It is a reprint of Louis L’Amour’s collection of selected poems, Smoke From This Altar, with twenty additional poems added by his family at the time of the reprint (if you ever find an original of this book, buy it … they are worth a lot!  I paid about $0.50 for my reprint, and I've since learned that the reprints themselves sell for about $60!).  Louis L’Amour lived more in one lifetime than a legion of men in ten lifetimes; his prose is rich and varied enough, but his poetry is sheer genius.  Even the short inscription in the front of the book is telling and poignant: 

To Singapore Charlie, 
….. who couldn’t read

Titles like Banked Fires, Enchanted Mesas, Interlude: Hongkong Harbor, and Words from a Wanderer bespeak of his travels and adventures on the high seas and abroad.  Emotions are deftly interpreted between the lines, metaphors ripe and pregnant with meaning, panoramic scenes depicted in fewer words than a photograph.  His wanderlust is apparent in almost every poem:  

A call that comes whispering, 
softly, enduring - 
Of ways to go wandering,
seas so alluring. 

Out of the ocean depths
soundlessly moving-
up from my memories
disturbing and deep;
a spirit that urges me
restlessly onward,
a dreaming that haunts me
awake and asleep.

Of all the poems, my favorite remains a nostalgic, three-stanza poem entitled To Cleone: In Budapest.  It's a wonder to me that he is able to write it this sensitively, without either bitterness or callousness.  

If you can find a copy of this book, I encourage you to check it out; especially if you are as cynical about poetry as I was.  

Mrs H



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