Saturday, December 24, 2011


In my poetry I do not try to find the words to express what I want to say. In my poetry I try to find ways to express what the words have to say.
--Carl Andre

Later today, our family will attend church for Christmas Eve. I will be one of those doing a reading from the scriptures about Jesus Christ's birth.

The reason I am a reader is that the pastor yanked me into the role after a reading I did several weeks ago when I read Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11. The reason she yanked me into that reading was because the local paper did an article about my reading at the Library of Congress in October.

Actually, the pastor first asked if I could read one of my poems during a church service. I hemmed and hawwed because, ahem, I couldn't think of a single poem from my very prolific output that I would not be, ahem, embarrassed to read in a church setting. (Let me put it this way, my mother is VERY MAD at one of my generous blurbers for one of my books because he so, ahem, relished the eros in my poems...Anyhoo:)

So the pastor asked me to read from Isaiah instead and it would have been, at that point, extremely ungracious of me to pass. Not to mention that I hadn't attended church for something like eight months prior to her request. So, I sucked it in, went to church, and read Isaiah.

And here's what happened: that day, a few minutes before church was due to begin, I looked at the the Isaiah passages; I just read them on paper, which is to say, I didn't rehearse my reading. So, that morning, it came my turn to read the scriptures and I stepped up to the podium, opened the very Holy Bible to Isaiah and started reading.

(no pun intended)

It was an unbelievable experience -- hot damn (forgive my blasphemy) if the words didn't just take over! I didn't mean to read the passage in any particular way, but the words themselves just took over my blathering mouth and there I was declaiming. I don't quite know how to describe it, but it's arguably the BEST poetry reading I've ever ever done -- not because I'm a great reader but because the words are so great! Isaiah, or whoever translated him for the New Century Version I read from, did an incredible writerly job! The words, the structure -- they had such an incredible music, rhythm, et al that by doing my job which was simply to be open to the poem, the words came out ... divinely.

I think I've had that occur in poetry readings (whether of my poems or others) less than ten times. The last time in memory that such occurred was when I was asked at the last minute to step in for Will Alexander at a City Lights reading. I read a Will Alexander poem and it was so musical that I felt I just sang-roared!

Isaiah (like Will Alexander) achieved something most poets never achieve: the poem takes over the poet because the poem creates a new life successfully through words, structure, music ... But don't take my word for it! Here are the verses from Isaiah I'm referencing. It doesn't matter if you're a Christian or not. Read them. Read these words for these words themselves, OUT LOUD. Perhaps you too will feel the inherent poetic structure, the crystalline logic of music here.

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11

The Lord God has put his Spirit in me,
because the Lord has appointed me
to tell the good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort those
whose hearts are broken,
to tell the captives they are free,
and to tell the prisoners they are released.

He has sent me to announce the time
when the Lord will show his kindness
and the time when our God will
punish evil people.
He has sent me to comfort all those who
    are sad

and to help the sorrowing people of Jerusalem.
I will give them a crown to replace their ashes,
and the oil of gladness to replace their sorrow,
and clothes of praise to replace their
    spirit of sadness.
Then they will be called Trees of Goodness,
trees planted by the Lord to show his greatness.

They will rebuild the old ruins
and restore the places destroyed long ago.
They will repair the ruined cities
that were destroyed for so long.

I, the LORD, love justice.
I hate stealing and everything that is wrong.
I will be fair and give my people
what they should have,
and I will make an agreement with
them that will continue forever.

Everyone in all nations will know the
children of my people,
and their children will be known
among the nations.
Anyone who sees them will know
that they are people the LORD has blessed.

The LORD makes me very happy;
all that I am rejoices in my God.
He has covered me with clothes of salvation
and wrapped me with a coat of goodness,
like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding,
like a bride dressed in jewels.

The earth causes plants to grow
and a garden causes the seeds planted
in it to grow.
In the same way the Lord GOD will
make goodness and praise
come from all the nations.

After this experience, I'm reading the Bible again. How apt for me that, if this sinner finds religion after all (so to speak), Poetry too will have been my way back to its fold.


By the way, the pastor left a message in our phone machine following my Isaiah reading. She goes on and on about what a great job I did, and that she'd never heard the scriptures read that way before. I mention this because I refuse to delete that from the phone message machine. Nowadays, when someone in the household -- usually the hubby -- is making some wisecrack at my expense, I play the message out loud in the kitchen to prove to him how I am worthy of MUCH RESPECT.

I've been trying to figure out how to take that message and create a loop for it for a CD that he can put into the car stereo to listen to as he commutes back and forth to San Francisco. I haven't figured it out yet, which is unfortunate -- it'd be the best Xmas present that guy could ever get.


Speaking of Christmas, last night we went to San Francisco to see the delightful Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Here's Michael and Mom:

Afterwards, we hung up some Grinch ornaments on the tree. A Christmas Tree, you see, is how I also like to think of my poems -- where what's ornamenting themselves there have real life avatars. You're welcome for my Christmas present to you: that is your poetics lesson for the day!

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