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November 29, 2002

Poetry, as a kind of human experience, was in the back of my mind during a trip to Denver last week. It should have been the topic of last week’s unfinished article to announce a small display at the library.

Now I sit at a window in wan sunlight paled by morning clouds and filtered coarsely through the tangle of bare branches high above the park. It is cold.

I’ve watched people walk, skip, and run to the door; come and go by bike and car; some slow, some fast. Soon, I will meet a friend who goes by wheelchair.

There’s a rhythm to it — like waves, like ebb and flood tides at the door. There is poetry in the motion.

In Denver, we picked up my stepson’s new wheelchair at Craig Hospital. The rhythms are different there: wheelchairs rolling, turning, spinning with an otherworldly grace. Some fast, some slow.

We visited the Rehab Engineer in his basement shop about getting a custom table made. The man was in a wheelchair himself. His palms were thickly calloused and cracked, and battleship gray from years of pushing his tires through shop dust.

He moved around in a practiced and efficient way but also with a freedom that comes from knowing one’s constraints very well. He rolled and spun around Bob’s chair asking questions, taking notes, measuring, sketching.

When he was done, he paused to check a few crucial measurements.

“Measure twice, cut once,” he said, which made Bob happy.

It’s an old adage, though not a tired one. And it sounded poetic to me. I couldn’t help hearing a haiku:

“Measure twice, cut once.” The man in the wheelchair has learned his lesson.

Poetry is not just for reading or hearing. It’s also for writing; it’s a tool for seeing, an aid to contemplation.

But in the end, poems need audiences. They need to move people.

The small display mentioned above is called “Poem of the Week,” and you’ll find it on the glass at the library entrance. We invite you to suggest a poem that has moved you in some way and to tell us why.

Poetry is enjoying a Renaissance in Central Colorado, making me rue the day I cancelled the library’s long-time subscription to “Poetry” magazine in 1995.

I agonized over that, but at the time I could find no evidence that anyone but me ever picked up an issue. For years it had been that way. We were stretching dollars then, and so I dropped it. Every time I see the boxes containing the library’s collection — 1921-1995 — I wince.

We’re thinking of re-subscribing and trying to fill in the missing years … if we can get through: “Poetry” magazine is currently stunned by a $100 million gift from Ruth Lilly, heiress to the Eli Lilly pharmaceutical fortune.

They’ll manage, of course, but imagine such a gift bestowed on a bare-bones, labor-of-love operation working out of borrowed offices at the Newberry Library in Chicago … well, imagine if Ruth had given you the money instead. It is that overwhelming.

I’ll leave you with a short poem from the December 1921 issue of “Poetry.” It is a haiku-like stanza titled “Solace” from the poem “From a bay window” by Pearl Andelson:

“Solace” Knock at my pane With your fingertips, O rain.

We can display longer poems, of course, preferably shorter than “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Please share your favorites with us.


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One Comment
  1. vicky permalink

    Dear Jeff:

    I have no idea how come I write the poetry, the only thing I remember is that I used to be the editor in campus 30-some years ago while being in my school days, … In order to fill the space in the newsletter one day, I picked up a pencil and wrote my first poem “the variation of July, and afterward I am addicted to the poetry. In the afterthought, it seems very funny, for I never learn how to write the poetry, however, one after one poem just pops out of my mind, so can I say it God-given talent?

    I would like to send your library some side dish of my flower poetry, here they are —

    Spider Flower

    Social butterflies
    Fascinated with the music
    Dance in roundelay

    Lady’s Slipper (orchid)

    Ancient Chinese type
    Waiting for my bridal day
    The embroidered shoes


    Anyone against my will
    watch out! my super weapon
    Strings of firecrackers


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