Friday, January 29, 2016

"I know none of these by name"

Each day my inbox(es) fill with poems-a-day from various sources, and someday I should make a study of how I decide to click and read the comparatively few that I do.  Here's one whose arguably not-very-poetic title caught my eye; I wanted to see where this would go.  My instincts are pretty good, I guess--I loved it.

I Have This Way of Being | Jamaal May

I have this, and this isn’t a mouth
            full of the names of odd flowers
I’ve grown in secret.
            I know none of these by name
but have this garden now,
            and pastel somethings bloom
near the others and others.
            I have this trowel, these overalls,
this ridiculous hat now.
            This isn’t a lung full of air.
Not a fist full of weeds that rise
            yellow then white then windswept.
This is little more than a way...         

Read the rest here, and listen to Jamaal read it himself here.  This poem pleases me because of the tension between the everyday register and the imprecise words on the way to a very deliberate and precise capturing of everything the speaker claims not to know.  (In fact I'm adding this to my collection of "no poems," poems which create their meaning by denying it.)   Wouldn't the title and its stem, "I have this, and this isn't..." be a very interesting poetry prompt for kids?

I also like the feeling of effort in this poem, repeated effort, which must be reminding me of the repeated efforts we are having to make to keep driveway and sidewalks clear,* and "return as sprout" must be about the poor green tips of  a daffodil, which in December thought it must be spring and time to spear up, but which now finds itself smack in the middle of the best path we could forge from the front porch to the sidewalk and is now trampled and muddied but still green.

Catherine is hosting today at Reading to the Core, with Irene Latham's new book in the spotlight--isn't it nice that you can just click to get there instead of digging your way through feet of snow?  Let us be grateful for all that is!

*This morning at 4:15 I stood at the window and watched a noisy little Bobcat bulldozer work its way up our street, hoisting scoops of chunky, icy, frozen snow from the edges of the street and dumping it onto the finally clear, dry sidewalk.  Oof.  More shoveling, with a side of boulder-tossing.


  1. It's such a gentle poem. The knowingness grows slowly, along with the plants. Thanks for sharing this, Heidi.

  2. Thank you Heidi, it's beautiful.

  3. Wow, can I use the overused word, "nice"?

    "Pastel somethings"--exactly the right words. "fill gloves with sweat"--so totally unexpected a description, but perfect.

  4. I kept meaning to go click this in my inbox. I was actually drawn in by the lulling, iambic title! Thanks for sharing. And if that snow won't melt, come down to the coast for a little visit... ;0)

  5. Sorry for the extra work on the sidewalks, Heidi. The poem is lovely. I especially like that hint of the past when he writes "I've grown in secret", and it's another denial for some reason. Thank you.

  6. This is clearly one I chose not to read when it came to me, so I'm glad you put it back in front of me. This is my life. I feel like an impostor, but I'm making a good-enough go of it to fool everyone else.

    As for the snow removal, I feel your pain. This is the model that our city uses as well. It includes blocking in driveways in order to clear streets. Only problem this snow. YET. I'm holding out for at least one snow day...

  7. You make me feel good by your admission of reading only a few of the poems that get delivered to your inbox daily (and I thought I was the only one to delete more than I open). I also like your idea of a collection of "no poems."

  8. I had to laugh at all the comments that others have made admitting to not reading all the poems that come our way. I missed this one and thank you for bringing it to my attention. I think the form would work well as a prompt for kids. I'm always on the look-out for forms that are easily copied but leave room for the voice of the writer. Thanks.

  9. I love the honesty of this poem and the and its precise imprecision (or is it imprecise precision?). Thank you for sharing.

  10. "something to push against that I know will bend" -- speaks to the frustration I feel in some areas of my life, and how the answer can be found in sweating over my garden! Thanks for sharing!

  11. I love this, too - and you're right, the fact the poem tries to negate exactly what it's saying is intriguing. Thanks for sharing, Heidi!


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