Don’t ask too much of poetry

I’ve been reading about writers and poets that seem to get something like a raw deal, mockery in the press, while some, no matter how bad they speak about others and display conceited anger have books written about them in a forgiving tone. I am grateful for honest reviewers such as the ones I find in The New York Review of Books, this one has limited viewing, but they are always within its covers.

The other day I had an idea about poetry, I guess from reflecting on the articles and surveys we see that poetry is not understood, not popular in sales, etc., yet there are several magazines dedicated to poetry, and a Poetry Foundation, and of course numerous Websites of varying tenor. Many folks here on WordPress dedicate there blogs to poetry for either their individual work or for more as a cultural beat expressing their love and concern, as to in some way raise consciousness about poetry, and to educate.

My idea pertained to reading poetry. I wondered if too many people assume poetry must be read from cover to cover? I have only read one book from front to back out of determination, because the work was compelling, and I wanted to write a review about the book. Otherwise I read poetry intermittently. Open somewhere and read , flip and read some more. Take in the verse and feel how it blends with ideas of the day. Usually I get questions, or inspiration, revelation, a missing piece to a puzzle, affirmation, and can be moved to tears. Poetry seems like such a natural and vibrant essential expression that goes beyond story telling, though it can do that. Poetry combines individual and mass experience, like heart felt joy, reverie, anger, and loss, as any art form does. Pretty much anything one can say about literature can be said about poetry. So open to poetry, don’t ask too much of it. See how it can be a deep expression of conscious living and a sharing of life.

Here is a poem by Martina Newberry, a poet that always surprises me and challenges my awareness of what writing has to offer.

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes   by Martina Reisz Newberry

If you know where God sleeps,                                               it is
time to

wake him

It’s all gotten out of hand:

* the bloodletting
* the pursed lips
* the money lenders in the temples of the innocent
* the grieving.

Someone must know where God’s loamy body is hidden

I thought I’d seen light’s edge
coming up over the mountain

but was fiercely mistaken

It made me cry to be so wrong

Night blindness
you say?

Who isn’t blind in the dark?                                                    Last
light is everyone’s curse

In the dark                                   each heart beats its own
small song

Courage…                                     the rhymed/the unrhymed

Cross out                                                       the misplaced

Exile                                                   the crippled idea

Where is heaven?
Not in this poem you hold up to your face

Which war was it

that you wanted to be part of?

(Cross out this phrase—no—leave it)

What will you refuse?

What will you abandon?

Go ahead
chew on your leather ideals

We’ve worn freedom down                                                to a

Read this again
if you dare

I’ve decided to build a fire                                                  inside
your head


after I get this last line right,                                    I’ll give it to you

We’ve been wrong all along

Our impatience to make
the world in our image

has filled our eyes
with cataracts

We can only wait

* for the next gun to fire
* the next resounding thump                                                 of a
body hitting the ground

I am cursing

I am crying.

I am crossing out these phrases

at the same time as I am
loving them

How is this possible?

How is anything possible?                                               I’d like
to know

Wouldn’t you?

Martina Reisz Newberry’s most recent book is Where it Goes.  She is also author of Learning by Rote(Deerbrook Editions 2012), What We Can’t Forgive, Late Night Radio, Perhaps You Could Breathe for Me, Hunger, After the Earthquake: Poems 1996-2006, Not Untrue & Not Unkind (Arabesques Press) and Running Like a Woman With Her Hair on Fire: Collected Poems, (Red Hen Press) Ms. Newberry is the winner of i.e. magazine’s Editor’s Choice Poetry Chapbook Prize for 1998: An Apparent, Approachable Light. She is also the author of Lima Beans and City Chicken: Memories of the Open Hearth —a memoir of her father—published by E.P. Dutton and Co. in 1989. She has written four novels, has been included in Ascent Aspirations first hard-copy Anthology and has been widely published in literary magazines such as: Amelia, Ascent Aspirations, Bellingham Review, Blessed Are These Hands, Cape Rock, Connecticut Poetry Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, i.e., Piedmont Literary Review, Southern Review of Poetry, Touchstone, Women’s Work, Yet Another Small Magazine, and others. She was granted three residencies at the following colonies: Yaddo Retreat for Artists, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and the Anderson Center at Tower View-Red Wing, Minnesota.


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