It was poetry that won me over to words before I even knew a person could be won over. When I read John Keats in high school, I secretly marked the page of “Ode On a Grecian Urn” in my book while every one around me complained: “This sucks!” and I nodded my head in agreement. The truth is, when I got home, I read it over and over, lying tummy down on my bed—the words on my tongue were honey.
If my high school love for poetry was in secret, in college it became my special quirk. (Not only was I super ministry girl in my sweet, if sheltered, Baptist college, I also wrote angst-ridden poems! Cool!) In grad school, poetry had become part of me. I was studying among fascinatingly gifted, bonified bohemian writers. When I finished my three year program, it was assumed I would write poems and publish them while suffering in a “teaching job” to make ends meet (which is the life of most I knew in school).
Instead, I went full time into an evangelical parachurch youth ministry. At first, I was sending my poems away to journals and getting rejected. And finally, I stopped. Part of my quitting was due to the untidy work schedule of ministry life, the other an unhealthy view of myself: if I didn’t publish I was a failure of an MFA graduate. Which is exactly why I needed to stop trying to publish.
All those lovely poems have been sitting in the documents folder of my laptop for the years since, sometimes coming out for a friend to peruse or for a special occasion. Otherwise, poetry, even my reading of it, has somewhat vanished from my life. Am I too intimidated by it: the poets, the journals, the intelligence, the secret world of poetry people? Probably. I always was.
Last Friday night around a table with new friends at a dinner party, my husband, Chris, takes a moment to describe me as a “fantastic poet,” in his usual attempts to make feel wonderful. I am mortified, not because my husband isn’t the greatest human being I know (with lovely hair), but because I know the question is coming: “Oh, are you published?” And I have to say no.
So I’m bringing it back, people! After a decade of feeling guilty that I’m not memorizing scripture because, let’s be honest, I really hate trying to remember where the Bible passages are located (too many numbers!), and not memorizing anything else because I feel guilty that I’m not memorizing scripture, I’ve decided to scrap the guilt and move on to sticking poems in my head.
So I’m starting with Elizabeth Bishop who may be the greatest female poet to ever write. Fellow mamas (can you say fellow and mamas together? That just seems wrong), will you join me in memorizing poems? It will change our lives and make us more interesting at cocktail parties! And give us something to do while we wash dishes!