Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Strength of Poetry

I have always admired a poet’s ability, just like any good artist, to capture life through his or her eyes and bring an entirely new awareness to their reader. It took attending Colby College, however, to realize just how much the art form really meant to me. Among the many things I cherish about poems is their quiet capacity to celebrate. There is no subject matter too small or mundane, as I have enjoyed topics ranging anywhere from red wheelbarrows, to dogs, to the very nature of human existence. Poetry puts a frame around everyday moments, letting us see the seemingly ordinary elements of our lives in an entirely new and unusual way. With the right sentiment or imagery, it can jump off the page, engage every one of our senses and transport us anywhere at all.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, writing is a tremendous part of who I am, but it wasn't until I had the fortune of taking courses with several brilliant professors and poets - Peter Harris, Adrian Blevins, Patrick Donnelly, Ira Sadoff, Anindyo Roy, Jenny Boylan, Tilar Mazzeo and David Suchoff - that I discovered my deep passion for this art form. Poetry has been a source of life for me. I write at my happiest, I write at my saddest and really anywhere in between. To make a little jump here, I grew up in the Jewish faith. I went to Hebrew school twice a week, attended temple and had a Bat Mitzvah. I am very proud of the rich history behind my own family and the Jewish people as a whole, so don't get me wrong - I'm very happy to identify as Jewish. But if we're talking about spirituality? I feel most connected to something greater than myself while reading and writing poetry. It resonates with me in a way that brings me profound comfort and helps me make sense of the world.

Poetry also provides me with a strong community - one that reminds me of the way many people describe their religious communities. I feel a certain warmth at poetry readings or workshops as I scan the room and see others moved by the same words. For a few moments while I'm reading, a poem can allow me to connect with strangers across space and time. In relation to my illness, poetry is also the best way I know how to cope and sort through the hand I've been dealt. As I mentioned, I wasn't able to be a consistently active person most of my life and was not athletically gifted. According to some very unfortunate home videos, I was the kid running away from the ball in order to avoid getting hurt. Art and writing are things I've always been able to appreciate and partake in even when I'm feeling my worst. I think finding an outlet like this - something that can't be taken away from you when times get tough - is so important for anyone dealing with chronic illness. I believe it's saved me more than once.

At Colby, I majored in English (with a concentration in Creative Writing) and opted to do a Senior Thesis. I spent the year creating a portfolio of poems, which was lots of work and lots of fun. I had the chance to work closely with my professors and mentors, Peter Harris and Patrick Donnelly, and in one form or another, I noticed that several of those pieces struggled with the concept of faith (I think my work still does). Just like many young adults, I had begun truly considering my belief system and the forces that have both sustained me and ultimately made me the person I am. In his famous poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”, Walt Whitman eloquently described our existence as “The simple, compact, well-join’d scheme and assured his reader “I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence… I am with you, and know how it is.” To me, this says it all. Words can transcend time, class, race and most other boundaries we have created between ourselves and others. I have and always will consider it to be one of the most honest forums of understanding and ways to truly connect.

I have been published a few times now which is exciting, of course, but I also know I'm just starting out on my journey as a writer. I am humbled by my amazing professors (who I am lucky to still be in touch with) and new work I am constantly coming across. There is just so much to learn and, ideally, this learning never stops. That being said, I wanted to share some exciting news! I applied last month to be part of a master class led by renowned poet Terrance Hayes. Today I found out that, not only was I was accepted (which I truly felt was a long shot in a class of 6 students), but that Terrance Hayes actually wanted me there. So what could be better? A full Sunday with fellow writers and a poet I deeply admire commenting on each other's work. I'm so excited. If you care to read some of Terrance Hayes's work, go visit one of my favorite websites: From the Fishouse. On this awesome site, you can not only read the works of famous poets and writers, but listen as the writers read them! There is something so special about hearing the art straight from the mouth of the artist. Somehow it comes alive in a much more vivid way. I provided a link straight to Terrance Hayes, but there are many, many more writers to enjoy. I'll keep you all posted on what is sure to be an awesome experience.

I thought I'd share two of the poems I submitted to the Terrance Hayes workshop, but before I do I just wanted to thank you all again for reading.

Stepping on a Nest with my Brother
in Lovell, Maine: Summer of ‘91

It just takes one bee
to remind me of your heel
punched through
that pregnant nest,
the petite army filing out
until the air looked
just like rain falling
upwards. I remember
all of it: the wing-buzz
on my earlobe, my fat knees
made fatter with venom
and your Velcro sandals
breaded in the angry things.
I’ve said it was the spice
of the stingers I remember
most when really
it’s the piggybacked topple
into Lake Kezar, the tallying
our wounds, licking them
like postage. Even now,
years later I remember you
this way: some odd superhero,
cape of hornets blazing behind.

Daybreak on the Long Island Expressway

Because this driver’s my father’s
same age I’m listening when he says:

This here’s God’s country
and I myself’m born and raised
just down that road. Only sheep
then, no people —only sheep
when I was a boy.

He says there’s just something
about the road at this hour
that makes him honest and I think
maybe it’s the moon freshly dropped,
the turn of the tires over dim asphalt,
or the pines blurring by litting by.
He’s got mountain range knuckles
on the wheel just high enough
for new light to speak through

and it’s somewhere between the on-ramp
and mile 49 when he inhales:

You should know 101 Cove Road
is where God lives
and I see you don’t believe me,
but my dear he's there
thinking only of his rhododendrons.
Go and see him standing, rocking
in that hollow chair.

He might tell about the sheep too
if you take the time to ask.


  1. Great post, Maya! I too, love poetry...my favs are (obvi) the Roman love poets...nothing better than Latin seduction! Keep up the FANTASTIC writing!
    ox Olivia

  2. AnonymousMay 30, 2010

    There's life and there's what life is trying to be.

    There's prose and there's poetry--and there's Maya!