As I said in the beginning of this series, my publisher chose the tagline “how to keep, save, & make your life with poems.” If it had been up to me — thankfully, it was not — I would have put “save” at the end: keep, make, save. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve double-checked the cover of my book to confirm the order of verbs. Simply put, salvation is not the end. Afterward, you make a new life.
By 2015 I was making my life with poems. Reading them, keeping them, letting them save me were all part and parcel of my daily existence. During that year, as I rewrote The Joy of Poetry, I began to see that my poetry practice was its own story, maybe one others could benefit from as they worked poems into their lives.
Which poems that moved me began to change in 2016 after the book came out and I began to do some speaking events. Now I’m noticing poems I think will move people. Oh, that’s my host’s favorite poem — better us it when I do my tea&talk at her house. Or, oh, this one has great characterization — it’ll be good for the writers group I’m speaking to. Or, oh, this one if perfect for the book club I’m presenting at next month. I want to show others how to keep, save, & make. Depending on the group, I might emphasize one of those practices over another.
During these last two years we have moved from the initial crisis, not unlike the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, to a period of frequent mild to moderate tremors. It’s not unlike that scene in the movie L.A. Story, when everyone in the restaurant goes about their business as an earthquake hits and fruit falls from displays, glasses rattle and entire tables drift from right to left, and Steve Martin’s character looks around and says, “I give it a 4.” Four is fine for us. We don’t need to panic until, oh, about a 7.5 on the ol’ Richter scale.
When I share a poem or share about the book, I don’t know where the people in the audience might be. They might be genuinely rocked by a 4. They might have experienced an earthquake that’s larger than anything on my scale. I’m not a psychologist; I’m a journalist. I can interview you and tell your story, but bless my own heart, I have no idea what you should do in your situation.
Other than read a poem a day. Other than keep the ones you like. Other than be on the lookout for ones that might save you. Other than make poetry a cornerstone in your life.
Oh, and brew some more tea.