Category Archives: Poetry

On Reading & Reciting Poetry

I have a signed copy of this lovely book from Caroline Kennedy’s Seattle appearance a few years back. I was amazed by how many of these poems she knew by heart, many of which she recited for us  that night. 

I am a terrible memorizer. Memorization is an analytical skill, a counter-intuitive trait to this Random Abstract Global thinker. However, next to trying to remember favorite Scriptures, which I’ve gotten mostly by osmosis lo, these 40 plus years, I do want to get some poetry in my memory banks. As C.S. Lewis said, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” (Thanks to Johnny Anomaly at Creative Coping Podcast for that quote.)

So off we go; there are so many lovely poems to memorize.

Poem Number One-The Singing Bowl, Malcolm Guite

I began memorizing Malcolm Guite’s The Singing Bowl last March after a special retreat  where God gave me a singing bowl as a metaphor for the weekend’s experience. In an effort to remind myself often of what God had done, I committed to the process, which I discovered is very doable if the words rhyme. Meter helps, as well.

Guite’s poem is a sonnet–14 lines written in iambic pentameter, with alternating end rhymes. What is iambic pentameter you ask? For those of us not steeped in Shakespeare’s work, let’s thank Google.

“Iambic pentameter is line of verse with five metrical feet, each consisting of one short (or unstressed) syllable followed by one long (or stressed) syllable.”

Read The Singing Bowl and you’ll see what I mean.

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Singing Bowl Malcolm Guite

Begin the song exactly where you are,
Remain within the world of which you’re made.
Call nothing common in the earth or air,

Accept it all and let it be for good.
Start with the very breath you breathe in now,
This moment’s pulse, this rhythm in your blood

And listen to it, ringing soft and low.
Stay with the music, words will come in time.
Slow down your breathing. Keep it deep and slow.

Become an open singing-bowl, whose chime
Is richness rising out of emptiness,
And timelessness resounding into time.

And when the heart is full of quietness
Begin the song exactly where you are.

The remarkable thing to me about having this poem in my bones is that I can recall it at any time and do what the words say–slow down my breathing and stop and listen, a practice I desperately need these days.

Poem Number Two-The 23rd Psalm, George Herbert

Over the summer I kept hearing different lines from Psalm 23 in various places and finally decided to memorize it. How hard could it be? It’s only six verses. Well.

Verse one is easy, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Everybody knows that one. I repeated the next lines rather haltingly from what I could recollect but floundered after verse 3.

Then I read George Herbert’s rendering of the 23rd Psalm. Or, as he wrote it, Psalme 23. Herbert was a cleric and poet who wrote in the 1600’s and while his language is full of very old English phrases, the words are incredibly rich. I especially was pleased to find the six verses of this Psalm written in rhyme and they are now in a little plastic envelope sitting on my kitchen windowsill. The theory is I’ll memorize the psalm/poem while I’m doing dishes. So far I’ve got the first two verses down, but I am in no rush (there are always dishes to wash.)

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Maybe you’d like to read/memorize it, too?

The 23d Psalm George Herbert

The God of love my shepherd is,

And He that does me feed:

While He is mine, and I am His,

What can I want or need?

He leads me to the tender grass,

Where I both feed and rest;

Then to the streams that gently pass:

In both I have the best.

Or if I stray, He does convert

And bring my mind in frame:

And all this not for my desert*

But for His holy name.

Yea, in death’s shady black abode

Well may I walk, not fear:

For You are with me; and Your rod

To guide, Your staff to bear.

Nay, you do make me sit and dine,

Ev’n in my enemies’ sight:

My head with oil, my cup with wine

Runs over day and night.

Surely Your sweet and wondrous love

Shall measure all my days;

And as it never shall remove,

So neither shall my praise.

* desert. Dessert; what one deserves

Poem Number Three-Barter, Sara Teasdale

The folks at Tweetspeak Poetry, founded by poet and editor L.L. Barkat, are committed to keeping poetry alive in the public square. Tweetspeak began with an impromptu Twitter party where all the participants chimed in and voila, Tweetspeak was born. I wrote about my experience with Tweetspeak and some of their mischief here.

Barkat and her team are committed to folks reading and memorizing poetry and to that end they recently included the poem Barter by Sara Teasdale in their offerings to patrons and readers alike. I’m up for the challenge as well, as I enjoy the content of this poem very much–life and loveliness and all–plus, it rhymes!

Here’s what’s printed out and sitting on my desk…. I’ve got the first stanza down. Baby steps.

Barter  Sara Teasdale (1884-1933)

Life has loveliness to sell,
     All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
     Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.
Life has loveliness to sell,
     Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
     Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.
Spend all you have for loveliness,
     Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
     Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.
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Loveliness, my summer garden
Now it’s your turn. 

Find a simple poem you like, rhyming or otherwise, and add it to your memory banks. Then tell me, what are you reading these days? I’d love to hear in the Comments.

 

A Prayer for America {a #poem}

I wish I could collect
the light, landing its shadows
on this page as it creeps
ever brighter through the gray.
Pour it out to wash my heart,
salve the wound of this
present heaviness, the sighs
that never end.Hold it lightly aloft, praying
no sharp wind or
quiet, steady breeze
snuff it out, for we
need it so.Father, carry us,
ferry us through storms,
silent and proud as we
shine hope in the right
direction–people-ward
up ward.

Send us, spread us
like the daily sure rising
of your sun, that moves ever
on into the distant dark.

——
In this holiday week as we celebrate the country’s independence it seems that all manner of circumstances would give us reason to despair. I’m choosing more often than not to turn off the news and turn to prayer over my kitchen sink instead.
May God Bless America.

Inventory {a #poem}

Lavender linaria spikes upward,
miniature clouds stalk-perched
     as they reach for the sky.
Hummingbirds crowd-feed
     in the waning afternoon sun.
Carnations, red as a fresh-cut
     thumb, wave divine perfume from
     ruffled taffeta on gray-green stems.
Sweet peas’ pungent surprise,
     a salmon/marshmallow palette, celestial
     bouquet a fragrance of that
     far away gate in the Heavenlies.
Juncos chip-clacking in rhythm,
     sure-footed clutching on feeders afloat,
     trapezing in the breeze.
Leaves, light-transfigured day
     lanterns lingering against
     a cornflower sky.
Voices ferried on the wind,
     gleeful hollers loud as a
     clap of thunder, neighborhood
     jazz accompaniment
     to this quieting afternoon.

///
Let the record show, no pockets
or wallets were emptied in
exchange for these riches, no
bank account tapped, no debt
incurred to pay for this view.
The ledger will detail only this:
   “Full stop, eyes open,
     breathing slowed.”
No currency recorded, just a
bookkeeper’s note in a lazy
hand,
“Two slowing feet, arrested gaze
     earful of sound.”
///
The books are balanced and so
is my soul.

Silence Ascends, Sunday {a #poem}

P_20190130_081852_vHDR_On-620976672-1549500404116.jpgThere’s a lot one can say
     about the power of being 
     quiet (yes, I see the irony).
When listening forefronts the mind
     other senses muscle their 
     way into place (the ears above
     all) take in the not-words
     simply song, hum and tone
     in counterpoint.
No addition necessary; I am
     mute, yet the Word bursts
     alive, verse and chorus rise
     without me. The truth
     needs no help to stand.
Even when I’m not singing
     even if I’m not yes-ing it.
Sometimes you don’t get an amen.

Home-A Poem in Three Parts

Beginning

Years and miles evaporate

like the morning’s ocean fog where

the strong, bright gleam of

friendship holds true.

Holds true like trees that have

weathered decades of sun as we

weathered our own wearying

waves of life, lapping at the edge

of our friendship, threatening

to erode the years of tears

and laughter, the breaking

in between.

In between we hold on, reach

out past the yesterdays touching this

day as we raise high our glasses,

crystal etching the air, the sound

like a chime announcing

we are still here.

Middle

I threw myself at roaring rolls

of foam and froth, abandoned

my limbs skyward as I jumped

the tops of broken, bowing

breakers, exploded in laughter,

surprised after all these years that

I still know how to dive when needed,

that my body remembers the bounce

and bob of moving water and most

of all, recalls the healing taste of salt,

the wondrous sky-blaze balm

that is the sun.

End

The melodious midnight insistence

of cricket backdrops my sleep.

I drift into memories of summer

nights when this accompaniment

was the only sound, a lullaby

for my youthful self; I rest

with a song.

-c. Jody Lee Collins 2017

Every summer I have a chance to visit Southern California, the land where I grew up. I spend days and evenings with family and friends, enjoying the rich, singular experience of a place that is buried deep in my bones. My mind is always flooded with memories when I return and, as usual, poured out into words.

 

 

 

 

 

Up {a #Poem}

2015-10-09 07.06.05“In the beginning”
begs the existence of a
dot, the endpoint of
a line referencing time and
movement, like an ant on
the Golden Gate Bridge.
If there is time (now)
and movement (how?)
why do we shun this
guess the size of a
galaxy, turn from the
possibility of a God
placing us just so?

I may travel by antenna,
feel my way blind on small
steel and close pavement,
stopping for crumbs.
But just because I cannot
see it does not mean
there is no sky.