I made this connection this morning when reading “Pen and Paper and a Breath of Air,” an essay by poet Mary Oliver in The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing edited by Christian McEwen and Mark Statman, which is filled with great poems and inspiration. In this essay, Mary Oliver writes of the small notebooks she’s carried for more than thirty years in her back pocket. These don’t hold poems, but the beginnings, often, amidst quotes, shopping lists, and recipes. There are notes on birds, plants, animals slants of light she sees while hiking. She writes, “The words do not take me to the reason I made the entry, but back to the felt experience, whatever it was. This is important. I can, then, think forward again to the idea – that is, the significance of the event – rather than back upon it. It is the instant I try to catch in the notebooks, not the comment, not the thought. And, of course, this is so often what I am aiming to do in the finished poems themselves.”
Her essay continues with examples of ordinary things which observed closely reveal the marvelous. Last night my class, who are writing across the genres, tried composing some poems, and perhaps the most popular entrée for some was writing from pictures my husband had taken outdoors. As people read some of these aloud, I glimpsed something lovely in the first drafts, but also had a sense of something yet to be explored. I suggested, Stick with that. A door had been chosen, and we got peeks of something complicated beneath. Listening to that door, looking longer, will deepen the vision into poems that may take us all from frogs, ponds, and grasses into wild new places.
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