I have read a lot of poetry. Don’t know how things are now (must ask friends who are teachers) but when I was in school, we read a lot of English and American poets, beginning with Chaucer and a bit of Beowulf, traveling up to Shakespeare, and bouncing through Burns, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson and many more. We read American poets, too, including Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost and Emily Dickenson. Poems written by some of these moved me greatly as a teen, and some still do–when I have time to read them. I suspect they had a big part in birthing my love of what one could create with the written word. Words from people you never knew and never would know could make your heart beat faster. They could make you sigh, cry, smile, and even laugh. They could paint word pictures on your soul!
As an adult and a writer, I added current day American poets to my reading list, several of whom I’ve met–Maya Angelou being a special favorite. (Delightful woman who is, as you may know, Arkansas born.) A current favorite is Miller Williams, who lives down the road a piece (well, actually about 40 miles) in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
One thing these people have in common is that their work speaks to me. Not all poetry does that. We used to live in Tulsa, OK, and for a time neighbors across the streets were English professors at the University of Tulsa. Both were poets. I remember so well attending a launch party for a poetry chapbook published by the husband. The Nehrings, of course, bought a copy, as did most of our neighbors. Comparing notes later, we were all in agreement. We didn’t understand a single poem in that book. Wish I still had it, I’d give you an example. Maybe the words made sense to people who were part of an “in group” this poet gifted with his presence, or perhaps his students fawned over the writing. Don’t know. The book did give those of us who weren’t “in” the giggles. I guess that was worth the price of the book.
So, as you can see, I can’t claim to be a connoisseur of the poet’s art. Dare I say (stand back!) that I do know what I like?
When, as a mature adult, I began my writing career I enrolled in a two-week poetry writing class. I had already sold quite a few essays about the Ozarks to national publications, and decided I’d “upgrade” my abilities to include poetry. Classes were held in Tulsa’s Philbrook Art Center, and one of our assignments was to write a poem about a work of art in the museum’s permanent collection. Well now, I had, as a teen, worked at Philbrook, was certainly at home there, and ended up writing all my class poems about art or the museum itself. I even had the clever idea that I would eventually create a chapbook of these Philbrook poems, and the museum would happily sell it in their gift shop. (See, I was promotion-oriented, even then, but nothing came of the idea.)
The training as a poet still serves me well, however. It did, indeed, give me more of a feeling for the power of words and, even to this day, I will re-work a prose sentence until, to me, it sings much as a line of poetry would. I eventually sold a book of essays with many lines that were poetic (the evaluation of others, though I felt it myself) and, as a genre writer today, still spend time on singing sentences here and there.
One of my Philbrook Art Center poems eventually sold to The Christian Science Monitor and was published on their Home Forum page. Since this is an international newspaper, a publisher in Germany saw the poem and, through the paper, contacted me. He eventually published my poem in a book for advanced students of the English language in Germany.
So, brace yourself. Here is that poem : (You’ll find it written in paragraph form here since I can’t figure out how to put it in the form poetry usually takes without skipping two lines throughout. Instead, I’ll simply put / where a line break should go.)
ART CENTER SONG, copyright 1987 by Radine Trees Nehring
Why is it so quiet?
An awed hush echoes in marble halls . . . /steps softly on gallery floors. / People nod heads, looking wise/ before images on stands and walls…/ sharing only the few words that viewing calls for!
Should it be this quiet?
Does the look of history and its art,/ or present paint and clay/ so awe us that we cannot speak aloud?/ Do we lack in knowing what to say/ or fear disturbing others/ who are meditating?
Are we quiet here
Because we think the world itself / would fall apart/ if we shouted, or danced, or/ spoke out loud, and from the heart/ praised the wonder of this art/ and laughed at seeing so much beauty!
The silence in these galleries is a song!