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Finding Calm from Poetry

5 March 2019

Janie read November For Beginners from Collected Poems (1974-2004) by Rita Dove and considered the similarities between November and March.

Tags: janie read, poetry, rita dove

A little less than two weeks ago, I attended Quadruplicity. This is my fourth year attending and my second year being involved in the planning committee. It’s always a great day and this year was no exception. This year, I was delighted to learn a new breathing technique from one of our breakout speakers, Lynsie McKeown.

Rita Dove was our closing speaker for Quadruplicity this year, reading selected poems and sharing anecdotes related to this year’s conference theme, “Our Stories: Connect and Inspire.” During her talk, Dove told a few stories from times in her life when she was called on to do something she never expected and didn’t know how to do, like when she was named U.S. Poet Laureate in 1993. When she shared some of her insecurities about not living up to what was expected of her in this role, she was told, “You’ll learn.” This advice was given with full confidence that Dove would figure it out, and it helped give her the boost she needed to really step into the role and make it her own. Dove shared other stories about her life, as well as a few of her poems, and it reminded me how powerful the words and images in poetry can be. I was struck by the sense of calm I felt when I listened to her read her poetry.

I purchased a copy of Dove’s Collected Poems at Quadruplicity and the book has been on my desk ever since. I’ve enjoyed reading from the book as a way to take a moment for myself during a busy day. I’ve found I can find the same sense of calm from reading her words as I did when I listened to them. I shut out other distractions and try to imagine Rita reading to me. As I said when I introduced her at the conference, one of the things I most appreciate about her poetry is the vivid descriptions and images. It makes me feel like she’s in the room with me when I’m reading. 

One of my current favorite poems is November For Beginners. Although this poem was written about November, I found the words to be just as applicable for our fickle early March weather. To me, the beginning of winter and the end of winter hold a lot of similarities, and I find comfort in knowing that the long, cold days will soon pass when winter turns to spring. What poems or words do you turn to for calm and focus in a busy day?

November For Beginners

Snow would be the easy

way out---that softening

sky like a sigh of relief

at finally being allowed

to yield. No dice.

we stack twigs for burning

in glistening patches

but the rain won’t give.

 

So we wait, breeding

mood, making music

of decline. We sit down

in the smell of the past

and rise in a light

that is already leaving.

We ache in secret,

memorizing

 

a gloomy line

or two of German.

When spring comes

we promise to act

the fool. Pour,

rain! Sail, wind,

with your cargo of zithers!



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