Literary Dim Sum

“We go on to poetry; we go on to life. And life is, I am sure, made of poetry. Poetry is not alien - poetry is . . . lurking round the corner. It may spring on us at any moment.” Jorge Luis Borges, This Craft of Verse

Poems clutter the landscape of my mind with bite-sized portions easily committed to memory, ready to be pulled out in a moment of need or want. I like to think of poetry as literary dim sum, which means “touch the heart.” And poems do spring themselves on me and touch the tender places. Depending on the poem and the poet, they may also tickle my funny bone, stimulate my intellect, or confirm some insight. In the art of living hugely, poetry is warp and weft.

Whether I am writing poetry or reading it, poetry gifts to me those blessed eureka moments, the moments when I understand myself or another, can put a name to the demons, or simply realize that I am not alone in my joy or sorrow. Think of W. H. Auden’s Funeral Blues and the simple line, “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.”  I am getting older, approaching elderly, and though I am always making new friends, I'm of an age where I lose a friend or two each year. Bereft at the loss of someone precious and shocked that the earth hasn't stood still, I think of this line and know that in this circumstance, everyone feels what I do . . .

. . . and all it takes is one disappointment in love to relate to Mad Girl’s Love Song by Silvia Plath, “I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed/And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane./(I think I made you up inside my head.)

What-Love-Comes-To-by-Rut-001-1Of the many poets I dearly love, I particularly appreciate Ruth Stone for her quality of giving things their true names and for the practical wisdom embedded in her poems. "Dear children,/You must try to say/Something when you are in need./Don’t confuse hunger with greed;/And don’t wait until you are dead."

Ruth Stone was an American poet and poetry teacher born into an poor family at Roanoke, Virginia in 1915. She lived most of her life in rural Vermont, attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, won many awards for her poetry and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for her last collection, What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems (2008). She was wry, bold, conversational, edgy, philosophical and used the language and imagery of the natural sciences to good effect.  Her second husband, the poet Walter Stone, committed suicide leaving her with three young children and an experience that indelibly etched itself on her life, heart and poetry. She once remarked that she spent the rest of her life writing to him.

Not Expecting an Answer

This tedious letter to you,
what is one Life to another?
We walk around inside our bags,
sucking it in, spewing it out.
Then the insects, swarms heavier
than all the animals of the world.
Then the flycatchers on the clothesline,
like seiners leaning from Flemish boats
when the seas were roiled with herring.
This long letter in my mind,
calligraphy, feathery asparagus.

When Ruth Stone won the Whiting Writers’ Award, she got plumbing for her house. When she received the Walter Cerf Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts at the National Book Awards, she said “I’ve been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn’t stop, I never could stop. I don’t know why I did it.… It was like a stream that went along beside me, you know, my life went along here . . . and all along the time this stream was going along. And I really didn’t know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can’t even take much credit for it.”

Ruth Stone died in 2011 leaving behind thirteen collections of literary dim sum. This poem, which gave its name to a collection that I just purchased, is a new favorite.

In the Next Galaxy

Things will be different.
No one will lose their sight,
their hearing, their gallbladder.
It will be all Catskills with brand
new wrap-around verandas.
The idea of Hitler will not
have vibrated yet.
While back here,
they are still cleaning out
pockets of wrinkled
Nazis hiding in Argentina.
But in the next galaxy,
certain planets will have true
blue skies and drinking water.

In the two-minute video that follows, the writer Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) shares the colorful story of her meeting with Ruth Stone.

© 2013, essay, Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day), All rights reserved

Categories: heart Joy poem Poetry

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