I’m so glad Lyla Willingham Lindquist adjusted some time to share a few poetic pearls here today as part of our Month of Making Manifest with Dave Harrity. Lyla and I have been online friends for a few years, and we first met face-to-face on the Frio River in Texas. Lyla makes me think and laugh, and is the wizard behind my blog design. Some of us call Lyla the “Blog Whisperer.”
My early experience with poetry was one of deprivation. It’s most likely that this is not completely true, but it’s how I remember it.
I learned in high school that nursery rhymes have a positive effect on the brain development of infants and toddlers. I recalled few nursery rhymes, so as is my way, determined that they had never been read to me as a young child. (This was also probably not true.) I could have been smarter, but for a few silly couplets.
In sixth grade, I memorized and recited my first (and last) poem, “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer, who I believed at the time to be a girl (who else would write about trees?). Like other assignments in Mr. Palm’s class, I was mysteriously excused from memorizing others. I now understand the value of memorizing poetry and try not to resent Mr. Palm for it.
Throughout most of my adulthood, I kept poetry at arm’s-length (my arms, by the way, are very long). I had no adverse educational experiences with poetry, no recurring nightmares about teachers who used poetry as a blunt-force instrument. I just knew nothing of it: I found poems hard to read while my eyes were rolling. I kept my distance, steering clear of poetry and would-be poets with statements like “Poetry is just cryptic nonsense.”
A couple of years ago I gave poetry a trial period to prove itself. I started to read it. When sufficiently provoked, I would even write it. One day, a friend sent me a poem. I was sitting at a baseball game watching one of my boys play and it showed up on my phone. It was a not a sentimental poem. It had nothing to do with trees or loveliness, nor did it mention cows, moons, or nimble boys named Jack with scorch marks on the back of their shorts.
Its words were bold, strong. Maybe I’ll even say severe.
But they made sense to me. In fact, they made sense of me. It sounds more dramatic than necessary to say that they were the first words I’d read that ever fully made sense. But it may be the truth.
My response was angry. Not angry at the friend for having sent it, nor angry at what the poem said. I was angry about the years poetry had been missing from me. Someone (many someones), somewhere (many somewheres), had written words that explained the world and my existence in it in a way that made sense. And yet I’d never read the words because they’d been written by someone with a worldview too divergent from my own or in a literary form that seemed to walk the long way around a subject instead of looking it in the eye.
What I had dismissed as cryptic nonsense or kept otherwise off-limits in fact held the key to a penetrating comprehension that had eluded me most of my life. As though poems themselves were to blame for my delayed appreciation, I was angry at poetry because of its late arrival.
I got over it, mostly. Enough to read more poetry, anyway. And to write more of it. In many ways poetry loosened my tongue. It gave me ways to say things I’d never been able to touch with words before. The funny thing is, at the same time it’s given much less to say.
Of course, in the end I discovered the one who was late was me.
On Explaining the Adjuster’s Delinquency
He waited 92 years to confront
an 18-wheeler in his path, then drove
his crumpled Grand Marquis
into the night. I chased after,
couldn’t see for the shadows
and the trees
so I cried out at the top
of my small voice,
“Old man! I need from you
only a tardy slip.
I am late for poetry.”
Lyla Willingham Lindquist is a claims adjuster, helping people and insurance companies make sense of loss. When not crunching numbers or scaling small buildings, LW is an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry, writes and draws occasionally at The Chicken Question, and designs websites at The Willingham Enterprise. Find LW on Twitter at @lwlindquist.