THIS IS NATIONAL POETRY MONTH. Being a poet is a tough gig in this country. No surefire path to riches and fame. Although to any poet worth his/her salt, those do not seem to be very important priorities. Not as important, at least, as seeing the world, and hearing it and feeling it. And telling the truth. One of my favorite poets is Edith Rylander, who lives in an earth-sheltered cottage in the woods, that she and her husband built with their own hands. That husband, John, taught the only writing class I ever took. Although I didn’t really ‘take’ it, and got no credit. I just sort of ‘monitored’ it–I think that’s what they called it–for a few weeks, long ago, when I was a young fellow trying to decide who in the heck I was. I’m not sure the class helped much at the time. I was not a very good student. But it helped in the long run, as I eventually began to think of writing as something useful and serious that a person could actually do.
Anyway, all these years later, I am somehow a guy who writes books. And I’m still in touch with John and Edith. Edith, in fact, was one of only two readers who looked over my manuscript for the last book, and has talked with me about the next one, giving much needed perspective and encouragement. And John, who taught me how to run a chainsaw, gives me a homemade beer or bottle of maple syrup whenever I blow in on a motorcycle ride. Meanwhile, Edith, through these many years, has produced hundreds of beautiful, meaningful poems, in many volumes, remaining faithfully devoted to her craft. Devoted to seeing and feeling the world. And to telling the truth. A way to riches and fame, no. But a way to bear witness to life? Ah, now we’re talking. That’s what poets do. The good ones, at least. Here is a short poem by Edith Rylander, for just this time of year.
At the end of April there were two whole days
When the hill behind our cabin was full of robins.
Migrating, probably, to other nest sites.
Stopping to feed, with a little courting thrown in.
Shaking rugs or going out to the privy,
We heard them. Detached bright notes
Falling in the stillness. Any movement at all
Among the naked trees or over the brown dead leaves
Wet with runoff, was robins, bright-breasted robins.
Well, and suppose we did; suppose we managed
The arrangements of a lifetime to put us there
In April, waiting for robins. Suppose the robins
Chose other woods? There would be only trees.
Brown branches washed in light, sharp against blue,
Brown sodden leaves, and the smell of snow gone under.