Sunday, December 18, 2011

From Reading to Looking

I've never been a huge poetry enthusiast, which is a shame since I am married to an accomplished poet. (Here's my plug - he has a new book available on Amazon entitled Adam's Dream, by Douglas L. Talley) I have been taken in on occasion by the sentimental or inspirational poem. But after nearly thirty years of marriage to a serious poet, I have begun to associate sentimental poetry with greeting cards, and inspirational poetry with Hallmark Channel movies. They're not bad per se, but not good either. Serious poetry has often left me perplexed. I finish the poem and wonder why it was written? What was the poet trying to say? What was his inspiration? Usually I follow the poet until the end of the poem and then find myself saying "Huh?" or "So what?" I feel bad when I have this reaction. I see what my husband goes through trying to find the 'perfect' word for a poem. I know that poets work hard at their craft. So when my reaction is - "So what?" - I know that I have totally missed the point and find myself frustrated in the process.

A few years ago, one of my daughters introduced me to a poet named, Billy Collins. For Mother's Day she sent me to a link of Mr. Collins reading one of his poems entitled, "The Lanyard." I loved it! It was well written, accessible, and I wasn't left with my customary questions at the end. My husband picked up a Billy Collins book of poetry not too long ago and left it lying around (in the reading room, if you must know) for me to pick up at my leisure. I did just that, a few weeks ago and read a poem entitled, "First Reader." The poem was about the books that were used to teach children to read - at least in my day they were, I don't know that they are used any longer. It was a treatise on Dick and Jane, how they were always pointing to something and telling us to "look!" What intrigued me about the poem was the closing line where Billy Collins points out a surprising truth. Commenting on how we looked at the pictures in those first readers, but then became fixated on - not what they wanted us to see - but on the words, the letters, capital and lowercase, and as a consequence, Billy Collins writes "we were forgetting to look, learning how to read."

I thought a long time about that truth and it's subtle implications. How I, personally, had forgotten how to "look." I was so wrapped up in my duties as a wife, mother and homemaker that I forget to look. Fortunately, my husband, the poet, did not. He noticed moments when our children would run through the house, trailing toilet paper behind them, or use cups as shoes. He listened when my son repeated a new word over and over again and my husband heard music - poetry. He made note that within twenty-four hours of our second daughters birth that she, too, was blessed with gifts like the Savior had been by the wise men. Her gifts were asters, a full moon, and the first snow.

Two things have happened in my life to help me 'Look' again. The first was becoming a grandparent. I'm not to busy now to appreciate the little antics of my grandchildren. When my grandson, Carston, does a perfect impression of "the smoulder" from the movie "Tangled", I see it. I savor it. When I watch two other grandchildren run to sit in their grandfather's lap at church, I see their joy and wish I could run up the aisle with them. I'm starting to 'look' as my husband has over the last thirty years and I am seeing a lot. Perhaps he has always been looking because he was a poet - a writer.

That leads me to the second thing that has happened, I started fancying myself a writer. Learning to write has forced me to 'Look.' Now I notice expressions, eye color, dress, mannerisms, like I never noticed them before. People are a treasure trove of inspiration. I see a man walking down the terminal of the Denver airport dressed in a pair of plaid shorts, a sleeveless ribbed t-shirt, dark socks and shoes, dragging a small square-shaped bag on rollers behind him, and talking into his bluetooth. I wonder what his story is. To me, he looks like a businessman who somehow lost his suit. Or I see a shirtless young man riding a bike down a crowded Austin sidewalk with an unusual backpack across his shoulders. On a closer look, I see that the backpack is not a backpack at all, but a cat, who acts like it's the most normal thing in the world to ride down a busy city sidewalk on his owner's back. There is a story there. Not only do I get to see or 'look' at the treasure that humanity provides, but I can also 'look' into my own imagination and see a whole new world - an entirely different story.

So perhaps as I learned to read, I may have forgetten to look. But certainly as I learn to write - I am remembering to see.

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