Poetry is made in bed like love and Emily Dickinson

Last weekend several members of the Upper Delaware Writers Collective read at the Sanctuary of Oils on Commercial Street in Honesdale (PA).  It was one of the more memorable readings, and at the end one of the group asked, "what is poetry?"

Charles Simic's piece in the Review reminded me of the question, and how I feel about poetry, where I write and how, and Emily Dickinson.  While Simic writes in bed, I write on buses, tramways, at cafe tables, in cemeteries, in the garden and in fact at Dickinson's house in Amherst (MA).  I don't often write poetry at a desk or on my bed.  I don't chose to write poetry.  Rather poetry calls to me unbidden, infrequently, and often in sudden bursts.

I can write long passages of non-fiction, and even write thousands of words in a morning of fiction, but poetry grips me like a vise or fondles me like a lover, but either good or bad, I have no apparent control over the impulse.

A young Emily Dickinson

A Dickinson poem:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

It's that impulse that made me think of Dickinson.  Did she think about all those poems that streamed and streamed and floated on her pages?  Did she have control over the words, the subject matter?  Did she, too, walk into her garden, sit on a stone and write with her fountain pen?

Knopf sent this poem out today for Valentine's Day, by Leonard Cohen:

When I Uncovered Your Body

When I uncovered your body
I thought shadows fell deceptively,
urging memories of perfect rhyme.
I thought I could bestow beauty
like a benediction and that your half-dark flesh
would answer to the prayer.
I thought I understood your face
because I had seen it painted twice
or a hundred times, or kissed it
when it was carved in stone.
With only a breath, a vague turning,
you uncovered shadows
more deftly than I had flesh,
and the real and violent proportions of your body
made obsolete old treaties of excellence,
measures and poems,
and clamoured with a single challenge of personal beauty,
which cannot be interpreted or praised:
it must be met.

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