April is National Poetry Month. I’ll be honest: I have always tried to like poetry. But I find it hard to read silently. I’ve found recently that I enjoy listening to poetry. (I am better at listening to most things: something I have noticed, only recently, about my learning style.) So, I think my newfound appreciation for poetry lies in the aural experiences I’ve had with it of late.
About a year ago, I heard an interview on Fresh Air with Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno. [First, a prop to Terry Gross: I am ceaselessly amazed by this interviewer’s ability to interview Sarah Silverman, Roxana Saberi, and everyone in between.] Bonanno’s collection “Slamming Open the Door” tells the story of the aftermath of the death of Bonanno’s daughter, Leidy, strangled at the hands of an ex-boyfriend. I find it hard to say that I loved this interview, but I loved it in the sort of way you love the saddest movie you’ve ever seen. You never want to see it again, but you can’t help wanting to crawl inside…because somehow, you have to understand why. Why did this have such an affect on me? Bonanno reads excerpts of her poems, in her quiet, even, teacher voice – stories of her private grief, anger and mourning. It’s spellbinding. While I’ve often felt that poetry not put to music is quiet, I could feel the tremendous strength behind the delicate form. Her plain language arrives like a freight train. At the very least, read the excerpt “Death Barges In.” If you want to be moved, listen to the interview. Listen to “What Not to Say.” (It might make you laugh!) Listen to the end to hear “Light.”
On tax day, Courtney and I went to a reading at her alma mater, Barnard. We heard a few poems from a collection by Catherine Barnett. The last thing she read was from her book “Into Perfect Spheres Such Holes are Pierced.” Not having the benefit of the interview and commentary associated with the Gross/Bonanno interview or the podcast playback, I don’t recall the name of the poem she read, just that the book was about the sudden deaths of her two young nieces. It wasn’t until later, as Courtney and I promised ourselves we would research to see what happened, how this could happen, that we found that they died in a plane crash traveling home from a weekend with their father. What I remember about the reading now, is the description of their mother, laying out their brushes, which she just deloused while they were with their father, bristles down, on a paper towel, on the kitchen country, to dry.
I wish I could explain why I found these two works so compelling – two works about the deaths of children. Now, it pretty much just sounds morbid. But, I think I have a need to understand. A need to understand how such things can happen, a need for explanation, and a need to know how those who remain carry on, and write. Regardless, these works made me reconsider the reaches of poetry.