By David R. Young
Reading poetry is not on many people’s to-do list. And writing poetry is on even fewer. Yet “doing poetry” has become my avocation since I retired in 2000 from being a Lutheran pastor.
My interest in poetry was piqued as a child when my mother wrote little verses on our Christmas gift tags – a nice rhyming couplet appropriate to the gift and giftee. And in college I really payed attention to the great English Romantic poets.
But it was a not until I retired that the poetry bug could really fly. I audited a poetry class at the University at Buffalo by Charles Bernstein. On the campus I learned that UB had a great English department, led by Leslie Fiedler and Robert Creeley.
Then in the poetry announcement page of The Buffalo News I saw an invitation to a poetry seminar; that would be a place to start writing on my own. The seminar was led by Ann Goldsmith, a well-known Buffalo poet and wordsmith. Her seminars really moved me along.
Each week you had to write your own poem, and pass copies for critique by other class members, all the while not explaining anything. Copies were returned to you with their annotations. What a learning experience!
I wrote little poem-ettes (is that a word?) for my children and grandchildren, until I finally focused my efforts about a “lake house,” a cottage of friends on Conesus Lake. It hangs on their wall, and its first and last stanzas are:
“All along the lake, Conesus by name, Seasons passing by the thousands, once Indian land, Limestone and shale were placed, and waters of Fingerlake fame, By God’s own hand. All around this place, Praises be! Sun and moon, woods and weather, lake and stream, There is demonstrated beauty and harmony, In God’s big dream.”
Years after my seminar I offered my poem to wordsandpoetry.net for critique. The editor solicited poems from me and other amateurs for a benefit publication for St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis. It was published in 2013 as a book, “From Sunrise to the Universe.”
So now to my theological library are added multitudinous poetry books. And I try to be a “poet in residence,” adding an appropriate selection to a special events or occasions. My personal challenge is to include faith-based references in my work.
When I read a poem to a group, two reactions become evident. One person says immediately, “I remember poetry class in high school, but I never understood a thing.” Another says, "I liked the class, but maybe I was the only one.”
Writing poetry can be a solitary affair, with a small audience for your work. Writing a sermon is similar, and likely soon forgotten.
But a good poem can reach a wider audience.
Remember the last line of an American classic,"but there was no joy in Mudville: Mighty Casey has struck out.” We can thank Ernest L. Thayer for that.
And remember one of the best lines in poetry, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” John Keats struggled with that line, writing “beautiful things will last a long time,” or “a thing of beauty will be eternal,” until he got the right words and right cadence.
That is what every poet, who plays and works and experiments with words, wants to do. Me too.
David R. Young is a retired Lutheran pastor who lives in Getzville.