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A Time of Poetry

August 21, 2011

Rod McKuen (1970s)When I was in Grade 11 or 12, I developed an insatiable appetite for the poetry of Rod McKuen.  I suppose we must have been introduced to his work in English (my favourite subject in high school) – I don’t recall – but I began frequenting the Poetry section of the library and signing out his books – one after the other – and reading his work over and over again (in his lifetime, Rod McKuen has released over 200 albums and three dozen books; in the late sixties he had only a half dozen poetry collections in print).  I don’t know when or why I stopped borrowing poetry books from the Library, but I was thrust back to that short time in my life the other day when I was browsing through the ‘Used Book’ section of our local Reuse Centre (a fascinating place that sells – for unbelievably low prices – the household flotsam and jetsam that local residents no longer have any use for but can’t bear to toss away) and came across a hardcover copy of “Come to Me in Silence” (a book McKuen published in 1973, well after I’d stopped reading his work).  Naturally, I bought it (for $1.00), took it home, and spent the afternoon remembering why it was I so loved his poetry all those years ago.

The inside cover of the book states “the poems are gentle, beautiful, alternately lonely and happy … [they] speak directly to man’s uniquely human condition – his wants, his solitude, and most of all, his desire to be understood.”  These words struck a cord with me – this is (at least partly) why I have always wanted to be ‘a writer’ – there’s some elemental need, deep down inside me, to share the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the quiet and the boisterous, the love and the heartbreak, the hope and the dreams, and the possibilities that make up our lives.  I want to understand – and be understood – through my writing.

PoetryI actually wrote quite a bit of poetry in my ‘younger days’.  From 1967 to 1979 I penned somewhere around ten to twelve poems a year; I have kept most of what I wrote (almost 100 poems) stashed in a big brown envelope in the bottom of the pretty box that I purchased for the specific purpose of storing my writing.  Most of it isn’t very good – I wrote a few pieces about war and peace (it was the late 60s, after all), a lot about love and loss (I was quite young), and several about the challenges of ‘finding’ myself and my purpose in life (I didn’t yet have a ‘career’ and was unsure exactly how my life would unfold). 

It seems I stopped writing just around the time I started teaching and not long before my boys were born (I suppose I was too busy working and raising babies to write poetry), and although I’ve penned a poem or two in the past thirty years, it’s not a form of writing I’ve actively pursued.  I’m not quite sure why, since it was clearly one of the earliest forms of writing I practiced (I even had two pieces published: “Free”, in my high school yearbook in 1971, and “Ode to John Q. Public” – a satiric take on various problems then plaguing the local transit system – in the local newspaper in 1976).  Perhaps it is because the succinctness and flow of poetry is much harder (for me) to write than the verbosity of dialogue and narrative prose (ask anyone who knows me – I can ramble for hours; being ‘short, sweet and to the point’ isn’t exactly my forte!) 

Mary Oliver Reading The JourneyThat being said, I do enjoy (occasionally) reading poetry.  I keep a copy of “Poem for the Day Two” (an anthology of 366 poems by a wide variety of writers) beside my bed and (while I don’t read it every day) I often find the poems to be quite inspiring and eloquent (although some can be equally perplexing and frustrating to comprehend).  I also have a copy of Mary Oliver’s poem The Journey pinned on the bulletin board beside my writing desk (it was no coincidence that I came across this particular poem – about making important life choices – at precisely the time I was trying to decide whether or not I should quit my job to pursue writing on a full time basis). Good poetry, I think, resonates as prose often cannot. It says something inherently personal about the writer. It gives you a glimpse into their soul.  It asks you to understand them – and to understand yourself in return.  It almost certainly makes you think about what you’ve read and – hopefully – it moves you in some way.

Question Marks“So,” (you might ask), “what does your poetry say about you?”  Quite a lot, I suppose (including the fact that I wasn’t very good at it most of the time; although in a few instances, I think I wasn’t half bad!)  As I travelled forty-odd years back in time – to when I put my inner-most feelings on paper a stanza at a time – I was surprised by how many of the poems I ‘remembered’; some of the lines quickly came back to me (sort of like what happens when you hear the first line or two of a song you haven’t listened to in years and the rest of it just flows through your mind).  I was reminded of people and places and events I’d forgotten (and some that I haven’t quite).  I saw myself as I was when I wrote them – young, idealistic, and hopeful in some; sad, disillusioned, and angry in others.  I felt now what I felt then. And that was quite surprising!

I suppose overall they reminded me of just how much I’ve changed – and how important it is to remember who I was before I reached … the other side of 55.

Life Tide
(written sometime in 1977)
© Margo Karolyi

I pull forward
and back
going nowhere
aching to
achieve a goal
that remains
just out of reach,
to move on
toward tomorrow.

What do I seek?
What do I need?
I do not know.
I look in every
face I see,
in every
person I meet,
in every
situation I encounter.

The longing
lies deep
within my soul
to reach out
and grab hold
of a strong hand,
a strong will,
to help me through
this tide in my life.

Life Tide

  1. Cathy Hendrix permalink
    September 5, 2011 9:06 pm

    Margo, that is a lovely poem! I have to say I think poetry is very difficult. Every word has to be the right one. As you said being succinct and eloquent is no easy feat. I’ve never tried to write a serious poem for that reason! I’d love to read more of yours.

    • September 6, 2011 8:08 am

      Thanks. I may consider posting one or two at some future time.


  2. August 21, 2011 9:10 pm

    My high school English classes were pure torture except for one six-week period of enthralling Greek literature…then Mrs. Johnson fell off the wagon, a sub came in and the torture resumed. So my exposure to and understanding of poetry is minimal. My favorites lean towards Shel Silverstein, such as “A Light In The Attic” or “Where The Sidewalk Ends”. But…I absolutely love your poem! It really touched my heart. Thank you for sharing.

    • August 22, 2011 9:56 am

      I’m a Shel Silverstein fan too (one of my kids’ favourite books was “A Giraffe and a Half”!) I can’t say my poetry ever followed a specific style – some of it rhymes (and not always well) and some was more stream of consciousness; I’m not sure any of it reflected anything I might have actually ‘learned’ in school! I’m glad you liked the one I chose to post.


  3. August 21, 2011 6:31 pm

    I loved Rod McKuen but have not thought of him in such a long time. I had his albums, The Sea, The Earth, The Sky. A college friend made me a beautiful banner which hung in my room during my 20’s, “Listen to the Warm.” Your poem is lovely. I have a blogging friend aged 30 who I think it would speak to; I will direct her to this post to read. Sounds like you have come a long way since then. For that reason it’s nice to be past 55, isn’t it? I too, wrote a lot of poetry, some poems were accepted for publication…none that paid though. Still it was a thrill back in the day. Loved this post!

    • August 21, 2011 7:07 pm

      It’s shocking, isn’t it, how the things that were once so important to us get lost through time? I’m going to start hanging out in the poetry section of the Library again! I hope your young friend likes the poem – I have certainly ridden more than a few tides since I wrote that piece, and though it took over 20 years, I did finally find that “strong hand, strong will” to get me through (my husband) and I’ve found what it is I was looking for in my writing. I’m glad you enjoyed it.


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