After April and Poetry, What Endures Is Love

E on DC

Beverly’s hair is growing back. After months of chemo and radiation treatment my friend is getting ready to celebrate the arrival of the cherry blossoms. We live from season to season, thankful for another day to walk among the living. April is National Poetry Month and so we peel away the meaning of words, searching for their sweetness. At times we hide poems in the center of our inner darkness, afraid of how they cut or slice our secrets in half.

There are times when I imagine Walt Whitman walking the streets of this city and taking care of the wounded during the Civil War. When I sit in the courtyard of the Portrait Gallery I feel his spirit. The sad eyes of men are not closed by history.

During National Poetry Month I give talks and readings in the area. Often when I visit a school or prison someone will want to know where my poems come from. I think of how it must have been difficult for Beverly to say the word cancer to herself and then to others. Where did her words come from when she telephoned and told me the news?

Poetry is nothing but evidence. It is cherry blossoms telling us what time it is. It’s that reaching to hold a friend’s hand in the middle of the street, and being only aware of the crossing.

This year I’ve been looking for new places to sit and write. Washington has become a city of cafes. The poet Grace Cavalieri years ago proclaimed Washington the poetry capital of the world. It does feel as if everyone is walking around with a poem to recite. In the old days everyone was selling chapbooks and starting small presses in order to publish their work. There were many readings and the sharing of books. Today it feels as if poetry has become a hobby for the new generation. Words are being spoken on stages and in classrooms, on buses, and in streets, with intensity and conviction.

Who is listening? Do we need National Poetry Month? I think we write because every poem requires an audience in order to complete the couplet. Eyes and ears will dance this month.

For 10 years I’ve been editing Poet Lore magazine with Jody Bolz. This year marks the 125th anniversary of this journal started in 1889, making it the oldest poetry magazine in the country. Walt Whitman once placed an ad in Poet Lore to bring attention to the selling of “Leaves of Grass.”

Editing a poetry magazine keeps one listening to the pulse of America. The last few months have been tough ones for poets – Wanda Coleman, Maxine Kumin, Amiri Baraka, Alvin Aubert –gone. Yet what remains is their work – the sound of their voices and the glitter of the beauty they sculptured out of language. 

I hope I never retire from writing. I want to always smell the blossoms.

I have a new book coming out this spring. It’s a collection of poems being published by a small company in Portugal. The title is “The Shortness of Breath.” The title poem is about growing old. Should I grow a beard like Whitman?

The Shortness of Breath

Knees and memories
this is what goes first.
The difficulty of walking
embraced by the inability
to remember. One falls
and discovers the shortness
of breath or how sunlight
enters a room only to be
seduced by shadows.

The poems in the new book will be translated into Portuguese. The book is dedicated to my friend Beverly. Along with poetry, what endures is love.

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