Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

How Poetry Saved My Life by Natalie Goldberg

Expand Messages
  • n.m.rai
    How Poetry Saved My Life by Natalie Goldberg I was in my early twenties and knew nothing but a hunger, a wild restlessness, unease. I had no landing place and
    Message 1 of 3 , Jul 31, 2006
    • 0 Attachment

      How Poetry Saved My Life by Natalie Goldberg

      I was in my early twenties and knew nothing but a hunger, a
      wild restlessness, unease. I had no landing place and no
      direction after I graduated from college with a BA in English
      and found no one who wanted to hire me for the sake of litera-
      ture, the one thing I loved faithfully since ninth grade. No one
      even seemed to value it. I was bewildered and out on my own
      in the big, non-matriculated world.

      Then one exquisite October afternoon, sitting on a futon
      in a communal house on the corner of Hill and Olivia in Ann
      Arbor, Michigan, in 1972, I experienced time collapse and
      space move into rivers. The walls exploded into a bath of black
      crows and electricity passed through my burning hand. No
      longer did I push words around on a page. A town, a bakery
      on a street, a friendship I once loved, all shimmered. A holy
      thing had happened. I had written my first true poem. Poetry
      was no longer relegated only to the realm of dead white men
      from the seventeenth centuryy who had lived across the ocean
      and filled my classroom textbooks. Poetry was mine. A synapse
      had connected. I could write.

      For the first time I noticed trees and flowers. I learned
      names: Russian olive, elm, oak, peony, geranium, petunia,
      marigold. Details mattered. Cracks on sidewalks, broken
      glass, worn stop signs, everything spoke to me. Rock, leaf,
      car: I rode rushes of thought with my cheap pen. I gripped
      a spiral notebook.

      Poetry, I whispered, poetry.

      My mind extended over clouds, insects, birds, small lost
      countries. I now had a purpose, a direction. My grandmother's
      soup exposed layers of posibility, my father's white starched shirt
      held my attention. Tomato soup, Brillo, World War II, ceiling
      paint, Ohio, this knee, that clock, his ring, all had weight and
      gravity.

      A kiss was no longer just a kiss-- let it crack open a line for me.
      Let
      my heart break. I knew nothing. I received it all.
      Before poetry, I was lost. Now loss had a smell, a color, a
      tex-
      ture. A fast train could split its side. I held lost childhood,
      lost shoe,
      lost moment. They belonged to me and I was found.
      There was nothing I couldn't speak about. My most mundane
      experience could take shape. If I peeled a grape, land slid in
      Caracas. If I bought a pair of pants, there was rain in the Sahara.
      Do you see it? A woman mattered. She had muscle and the force
      of storms.

      Poetry was my way into the big religion. It split open
      language,
      grammar, broke down objects and subjects. I swayed as one with chim-
      neys, sycamores, the hungry, and the hurt. History resounded.
      Memory lost the past and arrived in the present. My eyes were awake
      underwater. Was the poem writing me or was I breathing the poem? I
      was free to be buried, to be forgotten, or could live forever in the
      rise
      and fall of the Pacific tide.

      I went to cafes, readings, bookstores. I met friends who
      loved what I loved. We bent our heads over the Mississippi,
      counted eight sparrows on a fire escape. I was introduced to a
      half-known poet, soon to die. I watched him eat a thin ham
      sandwich at a drugstore. He slowly mouthed: "Poetry will never
      fail you, but you may fail poetry." I held Jim White's words
      down deep inside as his body was returned to his beloved
      Indianapolis.

      And then I used his words to move me: I hitched to Chicago
      to hear one of the first poety slam contests, studied with Allen
      Ginsberg in Boulder, Colorado, wanted to follow in his hallowed
      footsteps, met Anne Waldman, Ntozake Shange, heard Linda
      Gregg, Louise Gluck, Nikki Giovanni, Galway Kinnell, Gerald
      Stern, Amiri Baraka, Miguel Algarin, Simon Ortiz, Marge Piercy,
      read Adrinne Rich, Denise Levertov, May Swenson, Anne
      Sexton, James Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maxine Kumin.
      I won a poetry fellowship and traveled to Israel, heard
      ancient Hebrew spoken in the streets, walked with Bedouins and
      camels in Sinai, beheld an oais of three pomegranate trees
      against hills of pink sand. I attended readings in Jerusalem
      where people came after work, their lunch pails still in their
      hands. I sat and watched as the question and answer period last-
      ed longer than the reading. "Why did you put 'the' in the third
      line?" I saw that a country could honor its poets, that poetry was
      available to everyone, and that it was an esteemed profession.
      When I met a Israeli, even in the street, and they heard I
      was a writer, they said, "Recite one of you poems right now" and
      I memorized my poems so I could do that. A new and different
      voice came to me in that land, straight from the root of my life and
      I was not ashamed. I read to a group of scientists in Tel Aviv my
      last night in that old, old country. I was no longer divided by
      any
      border or boundary.

      I returned home and when I began to write prose, poetry
      was my foundation. It taught me the care and profundity of each
      word. It demanded that I not be glib, that my whole body stand
      behind what I said. Poetry glimmered between the branches of
      my sentences, the one thing in our greedy society that has not
      been gobbled up and sold in the marketplace. Always at my back,
      it kept me honest and served as an incorruptible reminder.
      I dedicated myself to something bigger than myself and was
      handed over to beings seen and unseen, mountains and space,
      dead ghosts, grocery stores, night owls, snow, whistles, the divine
      in the center of the dumb. I came to love my life, its ragged
      edges, big hours, and lonesome paths. I learned that one equals
      two, three, then four blue apples, seven pears, until it comes back
      to itself again. All one intimate, aching poem. All of us. That's
      what poetry taught me and how it saved my life.

      What a poet finally passes on is her breath at moments of
      inspiration. We read the work aloud and breathe her breath.
      May you be inspired by these poems and may they help to bring
      you home.


      ---Natalie Goldberg
    • Mary
      Awesome ! Until about 3 years ago I had no use for poetry. Now it s like air or water, an essential element of life. Thank you all for sharing yours here, it s
      Message 2 of 3 , Aug 2, 2006
      • 0 Attachment
        Awesome !

        Until about 3 years ago I had no use for poetry. Now it's like air or
        water, an essential element of life. Thank you all for sharing yours
        here, it's really amazing !
        Love,
        Mary





        --- In VoicesOfThePhilosophersStone@yahoogroups.com, n.m.rai
        <naga.moon@...> wrote:
        >
        > How Poetry Saved My Life by Natalie Goldberg
        >
      • naga_moon_rai
        Mary, Thanks!!!!! You have a lot of company and I think it has a lot to do with the way it s been taught in schools. In other parts of world, it s a part of
        Message 3 of 3 , Aug 2, 2006
        • 0 Attachment
          Mary,

          Thanks!!!!! You have a lot of company and I think it has a lot to do
          with the way it's been taught in schools. In other parts of world,
          it's a part of everyday life.

          Here's a wonderful online treasure trove. There may be a few dead
          links here and there but most should be active.

          You can also get a poem a day in your email which I do - one of the
          highlights of the day.

          Mentioning this in case you don't already know about it.

          naga'ji




          --- In VoicesOfThePhilosophersStone@yahoogroups.com, "Mary"
          <wefollowthesun@...> wrote:
          >
          > Awesome !
          >
          > Until about 3 years ago I had no use for poetry. Now it's like air or
          > water, an essential element of life. Thank you all for sharing yours
          > here, it's really amazing !
          > Love,
          > Mary
          >
          >
          >
          >
          >
          > --- In VoicesOfThePhilosophersStone@yahoogroups.com, n.m.rai
          > <naga.moon@> wrote:
          > >
          > > How Poetry Saved My Life by Natalie Goldberg
          > >
          >
        Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.