Fooling with Words: Celebrate Poetry

The days of the month slip from April to May. I want to do my share to celebrate poetry and applaud poets who gift me with words. While I am a literature lover, it was late in life when I fell in love with poetry. Though I have always enjoyed the familiar Dickinson or Frost, and laughed with my children through Shel Silverstein’s play land of words, for too, too long I approach the work of poets as ingenious expressions that I needed to analyze, dissect, or diagram in order to take away the meaning. And if I didn’t “get it”, well that was my fault, not the poet’s.

Bill Moyers’ Fooling with Words introduced me to another world of poets, and I began to feel the way words slip across my tongue, creating life-giving harmonies; producing words, lines, phrases that resonated within my soul – like “Yikes!” “Yippee!” “Oh yes!” “Oh my!” I discovered words expressing beliefs, values, experiences that direct my path; painting pictures I can step into; making more evident the mysteries of life; celebrating the universe; praising the divine.

Any list I make would be incomplete, but over the years I have been smitten with Coleman Barks, Jane Hirshfield, Marge Piercy, Maya Angelou, Wendell Berry, Pablo Neruda, Langston Hughes, Bill Collins, Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov . . . I have poetry of the lesser known but equally gifted writers, some of whom I have met in my writing groups.

Earlier this month, I scanned the library poetry display for a new read and picked up Denise Levertov’s The Great Unknowing. The title and cover told me there was something to be discovered in its pages. These forty poems were finished but unpublished at the time of her death. At the age of 74, Denise Levertov left behind a half century of twenty volumes of poetry.

I gasp with delight as I read  “Aware”.

“When I opened the door

I found the vine leaves

speaking among themselves in abundant


My presence made

them hush their green breath,

embarrassed; . . .”

In “a Clearing” she takes us to the end of an enticing country road arriving at a

“paradise of cedars . . .

an expanse of sky where trees and sky

together protect the clearing.

One is sheltered here

from the assaulted world . . .

It is a paradise and paradise

is a kind of poem, it has

a poem’s characteristics:

inspiration, starting with the given;

unexpected harmonies; revelation.

It’s rare among

the worlds one finds

at the end of enticing driveways.”

Keeping company with the poets is like sitting with kinfolk or the best of friends, sharing ordinary wisdom or fooling with words. Delightful afternoon with a cup of tea.

fooling with words


World Within Worlds

Words are another wow factor in my life. Since childhood I have opened the pages of my dictionary with the wonder of discovery – the origin, variants of meaning, pronunciation, uses in a sentence, synonyms, and antonyms. I was clearing off a bookshelf last week, and discovered the Merriam Webster I had used since college days – its worn blue cover, the binding pulling away from the spine at the corners. Inside the cover I had at one time begun to make a list of the words I had looked up – harridan (scolding old woman), insouciant (lighthearted unconcern)….I don’t often use its pages these days because my fingers more immediately type the word in Google search and open up whole new worlds of information.

This past week I stumbled into an expanding universe of new words, and developed an enormous admiration for those that have explored the heavens as astronomers, despite odds I could not have fathomed. In the novel, The Stargazer’s Sister, Carrie Brown recreates from the nineteenth century the story of Carolina Herschel, sister of composer and astronomer William Hershel. At a very early age “Lina” falls under the influence of her brilliant brother, twelve years her senior, as he opens her mind and imagination to a world beyond what we see.

Animalcules – that’s the word that first grabbed my imagination. William delights in giving Lina vivid images of the discovery of animalcules. I immediately liked the way this unfamiliar word slipped across my tongue, and formed images of microscopic animals. I needed to know more. Animalcules – Dutchman Anton va Leeuwenhoeck’s name for the little swimmers he discovered in his microscope. After her introduction to the microscopic world, Lina begins to draw animalcules with tails and horns.. When William points out that these animalcules are “worlds within worlds”, Lina began to see in each raindrop that ran down the glass window a whole city with “its minarets and towers, its bustling populace” (17).

Herschel, captivated by the stars, had already begun his own quest to build a telescope of mighty proportions, in order to see the hidden world in the night skies. I am not sure why I was caught off guard to discover that the prevailing attitude of the times created barriers in his efforts, for he was tampering with God’s territory. We do seem to fear whatever challenges the world as we know it. I know I don’t want to ever lose the wonder of our universe, and miss seeing the “worlds within worlds.” It’s rather tied to a realization that I am not ever alone or totally on my own. There it is again -that immense web of relationships that forms every aspect of our universe.

Today’s language for what can be seen under the microscope or at the end of telescopes creates a vocabulary well beyond my claim for knowledge. Animacules – now that’s something I can get my head around. Little swimmers invisible to the naked eye, but essential to my world, mysteries to unfold. Cause for gratitude for the unseen life that makes my own existence possible.


Taking Another Look

In A Whole New Life, Reynolds Price describes returning to New York City for the first time confined to a life in wheelchair and gaining a new eye level perspective of those who lived on the streets. Listening to Price recount this story in 1994 at a book reading was a pivotal moment that left a sensitive mark in my own awareness – there are so many ways to see the world. To see through new eyes, to understand a new perspective is not only a privilege but an essential view of a world marked with diversity.

I spent just such an eye-opening day during spring break with my granddaughter. The day began in her back yard where we visited the world of inch-worms dangling from threads, doing pushups on the stone path, or inching their way along every visible surface. “Look here,” she says, “this one is posing for a picture. Did you know that male inchworms have black stripes?” I could hardly stifle my response, “How about that!”

When she took my hand to help me across the street for an excursion in the neighborhood park, I knew I was a very special somebody about to be introduced to marvels I would otherwise miss in my “push through, get it done” approach to life. She pointed out blue-faced forget me nots, the polished yellow gold of buttercups, fields of violets, and first appearances of dandelions, along with numerous tiny white, pink, or purples flecks of wildflowers smaller than her petite fingertip.

We collected specimens for further viewing in plastic baggies – lichen and bark scraped from fallen limbs, new sprouts of wild green onions, variegated flower petals falling from shrubs and trees. But we left the moss in place for it “would take another decade for even the smallest patch to be replaced.”

We ended the excursion in a field of clover, looking for the lucky four-leafed specimens, making clover-chain crowns and necklaces. She picked a small bunch of wildflowers to carry home, but not before spontaneously thanking Mother Nature for providing us with these gifts. What wonder to see through the eyes of a child, to celebrate the richness of a splendidly diverse world, to take a walk in slow-motion with no other agenda than to discover the hidden beauties I could so easily overlook.