by Sandra Leigh
My sister who quips
she could kill
a plastic plant
has nothing on me.
Mozart and tea,
violins and steam
whistles the kettle I
really must attend to.
of all the gentle teas
my favourite, is the
perfect tea for me.
Ignore it if I please,
all day if it suits me
and it may turn cold but
It never grows bitter.
I just found this fragment in my Documents file, and I'm trying to remember exactly what prompted it (particularly that strange second stanza). Though the specific incident escapes me, I certainly remember how I felt when I wrote it. I'm afraid that that is my relationship to poetry, in a nutshell. I write poems to work through what I'm feeling. That feeling may not be a lasting one - or, as in the case of this fragment, it may point to some trait I see in myself, something I may not be proud of, but that needs to be acknowledged. It's all terribly self-indulgent.
This has been a stressful week. After a few days of feeling as if I'd been caught in a whirlpool,
I happened upon René Wing's Yes is Red entry for June 1, "Poetry is for Everyone". My first reaction was something like embarrassment - René was asking me (no, not just me, but isn't it all about me?) to talk about the beginning of my (poetic) beginnings, as if that weren't last Tuesday, or maybe a few years ago when I wrote some trite/maudlin/bitter/... attempts that I've long since thrown away or buried in a drawer.
But when I thought it through, I realized that my relationship to poetry really does go back a lot farther than that.
If I may digress for a moment, I'll try afterward to make my way back to the subject at hand.
Also in my Documents file is a (working) biography of my mother, who died when I was seventeen. When it's finished, I intend to make copies for my children, and also for my sisters - who have been helping to fill the gaps in my memory. René's question inspired me to have a look in that biography for a memory that I had set aside. I found a couple of them. First of all, there's this:
Another time, our entire Thanksgiving dinner ended up dribbling down the wallpaper when Mom threw one dish after another at the wall. That was the time that my father had made a recording of himself reciting “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” (from Sonnets from the Portuguese) and played it in front of everybody, including Aunt R’s family. He was apparently the only one in the room that didn’t know Mom was about to leave him, or maybe he was trying to change her mind. If so, it didn’t work. By that time, Grandma had died and there was nothing to keep Mom there.
How about that? The first passage tells me that I came by my discomfort with rhyme in the most natural way. It was my mother's fault! It also shows that I apparently inherited my tendency to cross senses (not synesthesia as such) from her. I remember the first time I heard a counter-tenor sing. I said he sounded like dry sherry. And yes, Dick Haymes did sound like chocolate ice cream.
The second passage is probably more telling, in that it reminds me that my difficulty in expressing strong emotions comes from seeing far too much acting out when I was a child (I was under eight when the Thanksgiving dinner incident happened, and it was just the climax of a very long melodrama.)
Many years later, a friend of mine brought home a Bette Midler video. I don't remember what number Miss M was doing, but she ended up writhing on the floor, wailing, seemingly in tears. I remember commenting that people paid good money to get psychiatrists to listen to that stuff, and here this woman had got us to pay her for the privilege. "Nice work", I said. I have since become a Bette Midler fan, though I still get uncomfortable when she goes over the top - and going over the top is, of course, her forte. Maybe what I like about her is that she makes me uncomfortable.
Oh, and apparently I was exposed to the Brownings at a tender age. ;>)
Now. I did say I would get back to the point, didn't I? I have established that I learned early that the safest course was to keep those pesky emotions under control, and that any necessary emoting had best be, if possible, in disguise. Maybe that's why I have always loved music, why I have always sung. That's a safe sort of emoting, especially if your favourite kind of singing is Tudor-era Anglican chant (and madrigals, which, as Anna Russell said, are very square indeed).
Poetry, then, is my attempt to find my way out of that box I constructed for myself a long time ago. It is my way of stepping out of the safe zone. I have always written poems, but I have seldom shown them to anyone else. Posting poems on the internet is a Giant Step out of that safe zone, because once they're out in cyberspace, I can't change my mind. The same applies, of course, to this story.
Thank you, René, for your thought-provoking post. I'll stop talking now, before I end up writhing on the floor. I'll leave you with a bit of the Divine Miss M's work (no writhing):