I was 9 years old when I started writing poetry. I was also 9 years old when I quit writing poetry. That’s because of the disastrous event that occurred when I entered a poetry contest in American Girl Magazine and did not win. (I think I should say I REALLY did not win. I think I should say there must have been a great deal of hilarity shared by the judges when they read my offering.) The poem was called “Dawn,” and it featured a dog, a cat and a bird. Well, of course it did — what else would you concentrate on when you were writing a poem about a beautiful natural event? Oh, I did allude to beauty. The last line was, “The beauty enchantment now was broke.” How I wept over the rejection letter! I had been planning on buying my dad a Cadillac with the prize money, which I had assumed would cover the purchase easily. I wept and I sulked and then I gave up writing poetry forever. But I kept reading it. That’s because of the myriad things it offers me: Wonder. Comfort. Gratitude. Illumination.
I think if you say you don’t like poetry, it’s because the poets you’ve tried are inaccessible-seeming. But Barbara Crooker, who will be our next guest at Writing Matters, in partnership with the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, is one of the most accessible poets you’ll find. She writes poems about 15-bean soup and dry martinis. About her mother. About her autistic son. She writes about sorrow, even anguish. Joy. Love. Sex. She offers meditations on art as poems. She reflects on The Book of Kells.
How do they come up with their ideas, the poets? How is it that they can so compactly offer what a novel takes a whole book to do? What are the differences in the way a poet and a novelist look at an event, an image and then use it in their work? If I see a red truck parked across the street from my house, I get ideas for whose truck it is. I see what’s under the seat and in the ashtray. I hear what’s on the radio. I imagine a cross country trip in that truck with two guys who argue the whole way, but whose mutual regard is plain to see. A poet sees a red truck and ….what?
I’m interested in the answer to that question. I’m interested in what kind of kid becomes a poet. I’m interested to know if poets always carry a little notebook. If they are surprised by ideas for a poem on a trip to the grocery store. By opening a fresh bag of coffee beans. By a phone call.
And that’s why I’m calling the next Writing Matters event “A Poet and a Novelist Walk into a Bar.” It is my dream to sit next to a poet while I was nursing a martini and to ask a bunch of questions freely. On Sunday, I’m going to make a dream come true. I’ll talk to Barbara Crooker and ask her all kinds of things. The bar will be imaginary, but I’m thinking my martini should be real.
I was once at a literary festival where there were all kinds of writers, including poets. One night a bunch of us prose writers were sitting at a table in a bar. At the table next to us was a group of poets. I think we must have expressed some admiration, but in any event one of their group came over, delivered a poem to us that they’d just written — a group effort. “Hey,” we said. “This is good! We ought to pay you for this!” So we took up an impromptu collection. Which they refused, waving their hands, saying nah, that’s okay.
A few minutes later, they sent over a representative to collect the money after all. That made everyone happy.
I hope you’ll be made happy by joining us for this event. Bring your open-mindedness and your martinis.
Join best-selling novelist and Oak Parker Elizabeth Berg as she pulls up her virtual bar stool with poet Barbara Crooker on Sunday, March 14, 2 p.m. Free; $15 suggested donation. Register and find more information here.