Despite what I wrote last week, I don’t want to lie — I’m still shy. There’s no reason for me to hide my love for poetry. And yet, sometimes I still do.
Even after keeping a poetry journal for 13 years, after writing poetry, after writing a book called The Joy of Poetry, I still feel embarrassed to admit my love for poetry in public. I’m tempted to apologize for it, to try to let my non-poetry-loving friends off the hook by saying, “I can talk about something else, anything else, if this makes you uncomfortable.”
I realized this inclination when I was eating dinner with a table of strangers at a retreat shortly before the book published. A woman found out that I’m a writer, and she asked what I write. I said I work for a monthly magazine in Waco. Then she asked if I’m an author. I said I had a book coming out.
“What’s it about?”
“The joy of poetry,” I mumbled.
I had to repeat myself three times and say it slowly, “po-e-try,” before she understood.
“Oh, so it’s a book of poetry?”
“Well, not exactly. It has poetry in it.”
“Some,” I confessed, as if I’d done something wrong, “but there’s some good poetry in there too, from other people.”
Then she had a brilliant idea. “Is it a book of faith poetry?”
“No,” I said.
She looked crestfallen. That she would have understood.
So I tried to explain. “It’s a book about my love of poetry, but it’s for people who think they hate it. And it’s about my mom, who died.” The words tumbled out, like I’d spilled cereal on the floor while trying to pour it into too small a bowl.
The conversation moved on, and I realized I’d have to get a lot better at talking about poetry outside of my happy little world of poem-loving people. In the year since the book came out, I have gotten better. Now when I get the question, I answer, “It’s about losing my mom and finding poetry.”
I’m more aware than ever that in general circles poetry is still the p-word. People don’t know what to do with it, and sometimes when they find out poetry is my jam, they don’t know what to do with me. Is she going to start quoting some random poem in the middle of boot camp? No. At yoga, maybe.
But I have gotten better at talking about the book when people are interested, when they want to know more. Then I’m ready. Ready to show that poetry doesn’t have to be a deep dark secret or a closeted obsession. It can be a handful of words that fit together well and slip into your pocket. It’s as portable as your phone. It’s a little bit alive.
Which means it might not always behave. It might say one thing and do another. It might whisper this to her and that to him. It might sneak up on you as you wake from a dream about something else entirely. It might make you read it twice, then say it out loud, then write it out, then write more — more you never knew was there.
I call that joy.