Happy National Poetry Month! When I heard you were being honored at Festival of Faith and Writing this past weekend and I was not going to be there, my heart lost a sad beat. The last time we spoke in person was back at Festival 2014, but your work sings to me in every season. Some nights I come across your heart and unique poetic voice while reaching for chapstick in my nightstand drawer, but instead I grab Harvesting Fog and my lips dry out as my struggling eyelids give way and your book rolls up and down with my sleeping chest. Or I hear you when I’m running on a trail in the woods, telling me to watch out for, “their blunt ends jutting,” or staring at the rain, waiting for the right word.
I think we knew each other when I was a skinned knee girl at Saint Mark’s Church in Geneva, IL. Or, more likely, I knew who you were. Not until college when I read your Advent collection, Winter Song did your voice come alive in my ear with that special connection that allows us to “know” a writer by her words on the page. We are related by the “word made flesh.”
When you spoke at Festival in 2014, I remember, “I’m an Episcopalian because of the mystery.” I thought, me too! We must be the only two female, Episcopalian (I’m actually Anglican) poetry writers in this world! It’s the mystery by which we connect our disconnected lives to the great mystery of the Incarnation and our words come. “Enkindled, enfleshed, enlightened, they are born.” Thank you for teaching me not to rush, but to watch and listen instead. To listen for the sound of heaving earth and cracking Spring while walking the dog. To take off my parka hood, no matter how cold, to hear the birds and squirrels chattering and chasing amongst last fall’s dry leaves. Their crackle a reminder that what is past is past and to dust it shall return, “humble earth can turn beautiful.” For in the stillness and silence the word can be found and this is a shared secret of writing’s joy. T.S. Eliot told us on “Ash Wednesday” and you reminded me from that big, Festival stage, “In our day we must learn to be still, to wait, to hold our tongue.”
Thank you for inspiring me to teach poetry, every April. Yesterday we visited Seamus Heaney’s “Clearances,” his tribute to his grandmother, “A cobble thrown a hundred years ago keeps coming at me.” Thank you for speaking into the necessity of awareness of memory and recommending the brilliant book, The Geography of Memory. My first novel benefited greatly from Jeanne Walkers’ heartbreaking reflections of her mother’s descent into dementia. I tell my students that poetry gives voice to things we cannot see. Sometimes a sliver as subtle as a glinting shadow stops our breath and Sprit-filled words compel us to capture the holiness of light and shade.
I’m sure that my sweet, writing sister Tammy Perlmutter will do a wonderful job blessing and honoring you this weekend, but since poetry is personal, I can’t help myself. Our crooked letters bump and grind against each other with the discomfort of teenage angst, loves lost and gained, middle age’s menopausal fog (not to be harvested) and later years of sensible shoes, hand knit sweaters and an incising eye that can only come from standing decades in the mystery, with gratitude.
Thank you Luci Shaw.