25 years ago I was introduced to a world of poets who would change everything I thought I knew about poetry – which wasn’t much. I didn’t have a traditional education – grew up in hippy alternative schools in Los Angeles – didn’t read the classics, not even in college. The poetry I did see was way over my head though; oblique, impossible to understand. It made me feel stupid. The less I understood a poem, the more important it seemed to be.
When I moved to Berkeley in 1982 I took a wonderful creative writing class from Cecile Moochneck, and I got turned on to poets like Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Ellen Bass + Mary Oliver. That was just the beginning. Turns out there’s a whole world out there of amazing writers – narrative poets – story telling poets whose poems speak so clearly to the predicament of our lives; the way we mean to love and what we end up doing instead.
Poems have become, for me, a way to embrace my life in all its complexity. They’re like tea leaves, or mantras, and they’re full of instruction. I love what my friend, the writer Deena Metzger said when she spoke of poetry as “beauty + ugliness side by side.”
If you’ve been in my Wild Writing classes you know that I use poetry to jump start our writing because poets have an opportunity to say the most important things in just a few words. As writers, we can learn so much from this economy of language and what it means to choose a word and run with it.
A poet whose work I’ve used a lot in class, and really respect is Oakland writer Alison Luterman whose poems and essays can be seen in The Sun. Her new book is Desire Zoo, and she’ll be coming to read from it this Sunday, May 18th here at 27 Powers at 4pm. Hope you can join us around the fire to listen to Alison read. We’ll have books and cool drinks. If you need more info, call 510 703-4030 Here’s a sample.
Carla, whom I refuse to believe
is dying, says, And another thing.
Love the fuck out of whomever you love.
I’m serious as a heart attack,
she insists, punching a button
on her motorized wheelchair. I keep an eye out;
last month she went joy-riding,
crashed into a wall, and broke her toe.
And have sex, plenty of sex,
as much as you can, while you can, she instructs.
Her gaze is direct, letting me know
she is not playing around, and I nod.
I want to say, Of course,
I am loving as hard as I can, but the truth is
I still protect myself with Plans B, C and D:
if you die or leave me I’ll move to Portugal,
adopt a dozen kids,
or go meditate in an ashram
until I see God face to face.
Carla’s hair is copper,
her eyes a dappled greenish brown.
Oh damn, I can’t remember
exactly what color her eyes are, even now while she’s alive
and planning her own funeral, just across town.
I love you, I tell her, possibly
the lamest three words on the planet since
contrary to myth and legend they cannot cure the common cold
let alone what she’s got. There’s a moment
inside our moments, like a seed inside a fruit,
that is the only real thing. And we’re just
grazing the husk of that, most of the time.
Carla’s lit gaze is an arrow.
It shoots right through me
into the face of the sun.