samedi 14 mars 2009


I blogged a few days ago about Mystery, So Long, a collection of poems by Stephen Dobyns. I wrote at the beginning of that post that it was a few years ago I discovered I could like poetry.

As I wrote it, I wondered. How did I make that discovery? At first I couldn’t remember how the shift happened, until I looked at my bookshelf and saw the first poetry book I ever bought. From there I was able to go back, memory by memory, to the original spark.

It was a movie that did it. Or rather, the music in that movie. You saw The Piano? The main song theme, the one that goes naa na-naa, NA naa na-naa -- y’all remember now, don’t you?? ;-) About that song: I couldn’t get the melody out of my head, so when my aunt bought the soundtrack, I copied the song (on a cassette – this was 15 years ago, remember) and saw it was titled “The heart asks pleasure first”. I was struck by how beautiful it sounded. I was a teenager back then and was probably regurgitating De Musset and Baudelaire at school, and it did not connect at all that the line was poetic. But it stuck in my mind, and every time I heard the piano piece, I thought the heart asks pleasure first and the sound the words made together thrilled me. That was dot 1.

Dot 2 happened years later, in university. I had a course on American Literature, and one class was about poetry (Walt Whitman, which I didn’t read). In class the teacher quickly went through others American Poets and he mentioned Emily Dickinson. He said how she wrote her whole life but almost never published, and only at her death did they find poems stuffed everywhere in her house. The anecdote was so terminally poet-like, it grabbed my attention.

It was in a used bookstore that dots 1 and 2 connected. It was a very atmospheric book store with books piled everywhere and alleys so narrow you had to circulate sideways between the bookcases; the owner kept a lot of cats too so there was always one disappearing behind piles of books or sleeping in a basket. I was going crab-like in an alley trying not to step on any cat when the name Emily Dickinson caught my eyes. Because I remembered her from my American Lit class I took the book to shuffle through it and there it jumped at me:

The Heart asks Pleasure – first
And then – Excuse from Pain –
And then – those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering –

And thus, I discovered I like poetry.

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