It’s May, and I’m still thinking about my New Year’s resolutions. That gives you a sense of what the year has been like so far.
It has been a time of snowstorms, power outages, fallen trees, insomnia, colds, flus and enough minor trials to make me feel, at times, as though I was merely trying to survive. Through it all, my wife and I have been raising our daughter, who will turn 1 year old not long after this issue hits the newsstands. I know everyone experiences fatherhood differently (I gather this from the emphatic, contradictory advice I received from friends during her early months), but I consider myself fortunate. Moments spent with Alina have been the happiest times in a tumultuous period.
Not realizing that New England weather and the flu season would throw me challenges enough, I made two minor resolutions in January. The first was to learn as much as I could about tea: from history to brewing methods.
The other was that I would start reading poetry every day.
I don’t know where in my life’s journey poetry stopped mattering. It sure mattered when I was in high school and college. I retain intense memories of late nights in New England diners, drinking coffee, eating fries and reading the “Mexico City Blues” of Jack Kerouac and T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” By the time I got to grad school, my interest had waned. Poetry didn’t seem to matter to me, perhaps because it didn’t seem to matter to the world.
But I began to think.
Since I make a living hammering out sentences in the English language, perhaps it was time to return to the best practitioners of said language. It seemed a revelation, and one with practical considerations. With baby and editorial responsibilities, I’m not likely to find the spare time to learn Spanish or canoe-building, but I can probably find time to read a poem.
My initial approach was chronological. In a fat anthology, I began with Chaucer. Slowly, aided by a Middle English dictionary, I crawled the lines to the Elizabethans. My plans faltered when I hit the Puritan era. I found it hard to digest. At that point, my reading list exploded. I began to read in translation: classical Chinese river and mountain poetry, modernists, surrealists, shamanic scribblers of no school like the mad Adolf Wölfli. I read, for the first time, the Dream Songs of John Berryman. I wiped the dust off Loy, Lorca and Ikkyu, and music swelled from the pages.
I read into the night, with my book light on, contemplating the moon above Thatch-Hut Mountain with Xie Lingyun, wandering the half-deserted streets with Eliot, and stoking Cretan fires with the poet known as H.D.
And then, when I opened my front door, whether I saw cardinals flirting on icy branches or green buds straining from dogwood branches, it all seemed to make sense.