For me, the last couple of decades have been a glorious gambol. Sure, a couple of guys broke my heart, and a slew of annoying fine lines started creeping in around my eyes, but, on the flip side, I began investing in more expensive shoes, spooning every night with a man superior to those who previously dented me, and discovering that a full-time salary can purchase heckalotta dark chocolate.
Oh, and I also realized poetry doesn’t always have to make me lie down in a darkened room and long for a pretty boy to place a moist cloth upon my brow.
When I was studying English in college, poetry felt like the suck. I was always, “Huh?” and “What the fetzpah?” and “Who said hummanuh?” in class, cowering in the back row, trying to avoid participation–yet ready to blurt out, if called upon, “It’s a Christ figure and/or beauty is a means of conveying the truth! And if neither of those, then dusk is imminent death, and every rose has its thorn!!”
My head came to hate poesy.
Being so negative, I was, thus, primed for a dramatic turnabout. Because–who knew?–there is actually a fair amount of kickass poetry in the world. Too bad Them Alls in Charge don’t teach it in the stuffy classrooms.
Hey. Wait. I think I may just be one of Them Alls in Charge these days. On occasion, when I’ve not been able to sidestep it (such as when one-third of the curriculum in my British Lit class focused on The Romantics, and damn my hide but those poncy absinthe-drinking boys only cranked out rhymers), I’ve had to bring poetry into my own classrooms, which, yes, are literally quite the hell stuffy because my college is ventilation-impaired and likes to take one big classroom, chop it into three smaller ones, and then not actually consider airflow in the new layout, which means that the new classrooms are generally, kid you not, 86 degrees and that–HELLO, PLATO–is not exactly the best path to good education. Seriously, is there any other more stultifying English equation than poetry + 86 degrees + class held after lunch = kill me now?
So, anyhow, for a variety of reasons, I am profoundly appreciative whenever I find a poet who actually keeps readers awake and writes clear sense in real words and doesn’t stress out my fluffy brain or cause my armpits to sweat even a tidge more because then those big perspiration circles would reach down to my waist.
The latest find in my continual search for Poetry That Keeps My Humours in Balance came, as so many good things do, over the airwaves of public radio. Some weeks back, I heard an interview with Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, herself an English teacher, but, in the case of her latest volume of poems, more importantly a mother…whose daughter was murdered–strangled by an ex-boyfriend. In Bonanno’s recounting, the poems come together to form a narrative of that event and its aftermath.
Clearly, Slamming Open the Door is not low-density reading.
Bonanno’s style is accessible, frank, heartwrending. Most refreshing of all, she’s one poet whom I’m pretty sure I’d like, were I to meet her. I would like to invite her to come sweat and do a reading in my non-ventilated classroom.
I would bring her a Frappucino. At the end, the students would clap with more than vegetative politeness, for she would leave them sitting up straight, amazed at the power of a words strung together with great deliberation.
Here, then, is an introduction to Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, a woman who will make a true English major of me yet (in this, my 19th year of teaching English). In this poem, she draws upon the experience of her daughter’s memorial service and dispenses advice to all mourners, everywhere:
“What Not to Say”
Don’t say that you choked
on a chicken bone once,
and then make the sound,
kuh, kuh, and say
you bet that’s how she felt
Don’t ask in horror
why we cremated her
And when I stand
in the receiving line
like Jackie Kennedy
without the pillbox hat,
if Jackie were fat
and had taken
to still an ox,
and you whisper,
I think of youDon’t finish with
because I’ve been going
to Weight Watchers
on Tuesdays and wonder
if you want to go too.