Poems (and Books) Grow Up

photo by L.L. Barkat

photo by L.L. Barkat

“My poem off in the world meeting other people and learning about itself.”

This quote is from an email I received from Stuart Kestenbaum, whose poem “Prayer for Joy” appears in my book The Joy of Poetry. In the process of asking permission to use the poem, he wanted to see how it was used in the book, and this was his kind response.

He sent this message about a year before the book was published, shortly before I turned it in for editing. Now that TJOP has been out for eight months, I can say that Kestenbaum was so, so right, not only about poems but books too.

When you publish a book, it goes out into the world, much like a child leaving home. It meets people you will never meet. It learns about itself. It becomes its own thing, both connected to you and separate from you.

Over these last few months as I talk with people who have read the book, I find out what it meant to them, what parts they underlined, what poems resonated. Sometimes those conversations surprise me.

In the workshop on poetry and memoir I taught this fall through Tweetspeak Poetry, occasionally I shared what I was thinking when I wrote a particular poem. And although that information was mildly interesting, what was more important was when they shared what a poem meant to them. Not why did I write “Beauty Shop” but how did it hit you, dear reader?

There’s a concept batted about in literary criticism called “the death of the author,” and essentially, it argues the author’s life and intention don’t matter. I never gave this theory any credence until I became an author. Now I think it’s valid, up to a point.

My intention in writing The Joy of Poetry may be useful to readers familiar with cancer or those who have lost a parent. Responses from readers in those situations did not surprise me because I wrote the book with them in mind, people who have experienced tremendous loss. What has surprised me is how people who never cared two bits for poetry have found themselves opening to its possibilities by reading the book, like the chemical engineer who described himself as “growing a soul.”

As the book gets out and meets people, it drags me along and makes me learn about myself. The poetry and memoir class was the first thing I’ve taught since water aerobics, when my kids were little. I’ll teach another workshop at Tweetspeak that starts in February, on tea, Writing Our Leaves and our Lives. And next fall I’ll teach a class on poetry and spirituality with the Episcopalians.

I did not expect the book to go to these places and meet these people and do these things. But it all seems to be what TJOP wants. As I try to keep up, I find myself feeling—dare I say it?—joy.

#gifts #inspiration #poetry Solve your Christmas questions with Joy 🙂

 

Comments

  1. Oh, Megan, this line made me jump up and down inside just a wee bit,
    “What has surprised me is how people who never cared two bits for poetry have found themselves opening to its possibilities by reading the book, like the chemical engineer who described himself as “growing a soul.””
    I’m guessing you did the same as well.
    Wonderful, insightful post.

  2. This is just lovely, Megan. I so wanted to take that workshop, but life didn’t allow it this fall. I hope you’ll do that one again someday. I truly do.

  3. Fayma Drummond says:

    Love all of this Megan. In fact, never read anything you have written that I didn’t love!

  4. Thank you Megan. I still haven’t finished your book, not because it’s a drag, but because I wait until my heart is in the right place to receive it. When I’m settled, I sip on your story telling and poetry slices. I’m glad your book is wondering around in the big wide world!