April Poetry Month hmmmmm which came first?

April is National Poetry Month.      Many of my friends are writing posts about it on Facebook and other such happy places.    I think I’m too tired to write a poem tonight, but want  to talk about poets and poetry and literature and life.   My undergrad is in music, and it has always been part of my vocation and avocation.

As such, I am a “Jill of all trades, master of none.”   I am a trained vocalist, play multiple styles of  guitar, sax, and trombone well.  As a former band instructor, I have at least a semester on a zillion other instruments so could understand them and do basic fingering charts etc and play well enough to stay ahead of a Jr. High player.

I can usually handle my own on the keyboards, but no matter what, that is always a secondary skill for me.  I have a couple of musician friends who are gifted in ways that I could never even fathom.   Yes, They have been gifted, and they’ve also worked incredibly hard to be what I call ‘thoroughbred’ musicians….they are skilled at a level that I can barely even covet.     Thankfully they are generous with their time and talents, and I’ve been able to work with them for most of my large liturgies, and other musical events.    When I have to play for something important, I actually pray that their spirit may enter my fingers.

I’m reminded of a quote I’ve heard attributed to a couple of people:  “A genius! For 37 years I’ve practiced fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius!” –Pablo Sarasate (Spanish violinist)  The truth of the matter is the musicians I mention had both a natural gift and a discipline that I will never have.

My brain frequently works in loose associations, and friends and  associates  either marvel or cringe at the fact that you can say dang near anything and I will break into song.   It could be a popular song, an oldy, or a freshly minted paraphrase on an existing tune just to fit the situation.

This actually comes in handy when I am doing liturgy preparations.   When I meet with a funeral family, or look at Sunday’s liturgy,  I can read the scripture, or listen to the story about the deceased, and think of a song that would be a really good fit. I had a boss once who used to call me  “the human jukebox. ”

What I am saying  is that LYRICS are very important to me.   If I get a new CD, I’ll play it over and over until I have internalized the whole thing and know the text and the changes.   Sadly, people in the pews don’t always catch the  painstaking steps one takes to tie together the hymns with the scriptures and prayers.   Or it is an AHA moment when one realizes “Hey, those hymns went right a long with what Father said today…..”

You know, it doesn’t matter how great the homily was though, more people are going to leave the liturgy humming the final hymn than the homily.   Music has such a subliminal ability to carry the message, and to connect life moments.   I could do a whole life timeline by what I was doing  or where I was at in life when I heard that song, or where I prayed that hymn for the first time.

So  where all this is leading  is to a major insight I had a few years ago.   For many many years, I thought of myself as a musician who liked to write, but a few years ago, I had an AHA moment and in that epiphany, discovered that I was actually a writer, who makes music.    Perhaps that may seem like splitting hairs,  but it was an important piece of self knowledge, and that gnosis  has given me a truer vision of my gifts and my talents as well as my strengths and weaknesses.

The rich imagery and poetry of the Psalms have always been some of my favorite parts of scripture, and how those lines of poetry that I prayed daily for so many years in the Monastery  still come back as a source of strength and insight to me now.   It seems the right line and emotion are always there.

We just finished Holy Week and the Sacred Easter Triduum.  Perhaps the most powerful moment for me was Sunday AM after communion, when the congregation sang a hymn together that summarized all that we had been through.   M. D. Ridge’s beautiful “Three Days” set to Gustav Holtz’s THAXTED  http://www.ocp.org/products/129171  In its concise three stanza format, it captured all that hours of prayer had said, creating a ‘nutshell’ version that was ever so rich.

KALEIDOSCOPE_WEBSo, as we begin this month of poetry I’m reflecting back to the influences on my life:  Our primary reader series (school was JUST beginning to move away from Dick and Jane (Kaleidoscopes)  with Miss Olson.  (Panorama and Serendipity were the other books in that series… they were so cool, and I loved those big words!)

The Roberts English books (remember one had the turqoise stripes on the covers and others were patterned?)   It was there with Mrs. Dannis, Mrs.McIvor, John Moffatt, and so many others that I learned Robert Frost’s “stopping by the woods on a snowy evening” and “the road not taken”  Walt Whitman, and Joyce Kilmer’s “Tree”  and so very many other poems. But my very favorite was a line from Shakespeare that I still tend to throw out in odd places and situations:  “And greasy John doth keel the pot!”  It appears the actual quote is  “While greasy JOAN doth keel the pot” but I always pictured a big sloppy guy in renaissance clothes…. for many years I had it that way, until I actually looked it up a few years ago and discovered it was all Joan’s fault


When icicles hang by the wall,  
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,  
And milk comes frozen home in pail,  
When blood is nipp’d, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl, 
To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,  
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.  
When all aloud the wind doe blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,  
And birds sit brooding in the snow,  
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,  
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,  
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,  
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Love’s Labour’s Lost, V.ii; written circa 1593

I remember a Bismarck State instructor, Arnold Lahren, who taught  Doug Blumhardt, Isolde, Cynthia Trondstat nee Katharine Swanson the importance of poetry, and accepted our feeble efforts and attempts and found some greatness in them.  Kathleen Norris and her husband poet  David Dwyer, David Whyte,  and Anne Sexton gave me an appreciation for contemporary poets.

Yet, all that paled when I first experienced someone writing a love sonnet for me.  It moved past the intellectual, even beyond the spiritual, as there were those wonderful, terrible, truly ineffable vicissitudes of emotion that accompanied it.   For when a simple statement is not enough,  when one needs to wax eloquent, or to try and find the perfect word, then only a poem will do.

It is late, the month is young, and while I have strayed far from my initial concept, there is much more to be said about poetry, but I will leave it for another day.