Every year, for Thanksgiving, I share a poem. Sometimes I go for a playful little piece, like The Vegetables, or The Happy Virus. Last year I went with a poem on the theme of gratitude by posting The Guest House by Rumi.
This year I was inspired to go a step further. I’ve been reading this book Light the Dark. It’s a collection of essays by authors in which each writes about the words that inspired them, the line of poetry or prose that changed their life. It’s a fantastic book, really – you’ll be seeing it again soon on my list of favorite books for 2017 – and one of the things that caught my attention as I read it was that more than a few of the writers talked about poetry and the act of memorizing a poem.
These writers (including Aimee Bender, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Billy Collins to name a few) said that, as they worked to memorize the poem, their understanding of it changed, and they saw things in it that they didn’t see before. So I decided, this year for my Thanksgiving poem, I would give it a try.
The poem I went with is by Maya Angelou. I found it at the public library, in a book called “The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou.”
It occurs to me now,
I never see you smiling
humor rich, your phrases
turning on a thin
dime. For me your wit is honed
to killing sharpness.
But I never catch
you simply smiling, anymore.
Notice the line breaks. As I started to repeat it, I noticed that the line breaks change how some of the words land. Like that first “anymore.” It’s almost like an afterthought. Like at the last minute she realized this person used to smile, but not anymore. And see how “dime” isn’t on the same line as “thin”? She didn’t need the word “thin” at all, but having it there gives the impression of someone turning thin, as if wasting away or becoming brittle. And having the word “dime” there before the words “for me” made me think that there’s not much for her in this relationship.
The more I practiced it, the more I got a sense of loss from this poem. The title “Changing” began to make more sense. It’s not just that the person doesn’t smile anymore. There’s a bitterness in the phrasing with its honed wit and killing sharpness. There’s a real sadness at the change that is taking place.
I never used to read poetry, back in the day, but the more I do, the more I find value in it. So these days I try to keep a few books of poems laying around my office, so that when I find myself with a few minutes of time, I can flip to a page and soak in some beautiful words.
Have you ever memorized a poem? Which one? And did it change your perception of it? Do you have a favorite book of poems? I’m working on my Christmas list, so hit me up with some suggestions.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!