Saturday, 8 November 2014

Wholly Alive in This Short, Exquisite Life: Seven Poems I Love

Written, once again, for the edX Art of Poetry course I'm doing. This week we gathered seven poems that mean something to us and wrote about them. It was a wonderful experience--a lot of work for one sitting but to see how they all folded together was a blessing.

  1. Sugarskulli: “Ode to Boyhood” (USA)
  2. Eileen Kernaghan: “Mohenjo-daro: a poem” (Canada)
  3. Seamus Heaney: “A Sofa in the the Forties” (Ireland)
  4. Julian of Norwich: “I it am” (England)
  5. Togiram (Emile Célestin-Mégie): “M’ap Ekri Youn Powèm/I’m Writing a Poem” (Haiti)
  6. Thich Nhat Hanh : “Please Call Me By My True Names” (Vietnam)
  7. Mirabai: “The Plums Tasted” (India)

Sugarskulli is Alex Barr (b. 1998, USA), a sixteen-year-old transgendered girl. She says she’s not a poet, but “Ode to Boyhood” shook me as good poetry can when it strikes a personal chord.

She tells about a girl who’s a boy inside, and the clash with family expectations, fellow students, self.

A pink dress, hanging in the/
closet with/
chains in the pearl necklace./
Weight /
Weight, and the color of shame./
blocks in the shape of high heeled shoes,/
a mother who makes too many tomboy jokes./
“That’s my girl,” she says “You’re just like your/
dad.” The role of the daughter never fit./
More than just clothes are in that closet.

Recently, a young man I know (now a young woman I know) dove into self-harm, shutting inward, grief. In my youth, I rejected the stereotypes of girlhood—if this was what we were allowed, I wanted out. Then later, the uneasy awareness that though men are cute—so are women. Say that out loud in 1970? Puhleeze.

I could write yards about this, but I won’t, only that Sugarskulli’s pain hits close to home. Her last stanza is one line:

Dysphoria is the ugliest poet.                     

Eileen Kernaghan’s (b.1939, Canada) “Mohenjo-daro” introduces her beautifully written novel about the Indus Valley, Winter on the Plain of Ghosts. I find Kernaghan’s writing absolutely magical, whether in prose or poem; here I’m swept off to a long-dead yet vibrantly once-living place.