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Archive for the ‘Susan Coolidge’ Category

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Last Saturday morning I participated in a breast cancer walk. The night before, I leafed through my poem stash to pick out a few to take with me, and it was then that I realized that a blog post on breast cancer should include my own health history.

 

I felt uneasy about that for a few reasons.

 

First because I’ve never mentioned on this blog that I’ve had breast cancer (ten years ago last fall). Okay, way back in a post about a William Henry Davies’ poem, I did mention that I have no breasts, but I tend to wear my “survivor” status like I wear my underwear–hidden from view unless you are my husband or doctor, but always there, close to the skin, a foundation, necessary to me if undesirable.

 

The other reason I was hesitant to do a breast cancer post was because the day was about my friend, the woman I walked to support, not about my own bad memories. I wanted to choose poems to celebrate her strength, acknowledge her ordeal, boost her confidence in her own good health. But the  poems I picked were personal to me and I can’t hide that.

 

The funny thing was, out of our group of ten walkers, I discovered that four of us have had cancer and (mostly) didn’t know the others did. So as much as the day was about Lisa, it ended up being about all of us, the survivors and the friends who helped, the women who didn’t survive and broke our hearts, the women and men whose hearts were broken, the strangers we met along the way. (Hello, Deb from Delaware with your chic post-chemo hair!) We walked in solidarity and friendship. I hope the poems reflect our shared experience more than just my own.

 

That said, the first poem I left was the most personal of all. When I arrived at the walk, I had a moment alone. My heart was full of friends I’ve lost to cancer. I left a poem to honor them: “Jewels in My Hand” by Sasha Moorsom which I taped to a lamppost by the entrance to the zoo, where the walk was held.

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To Beth and Christine (breast cancer), to Barb, (lung cancer), and to Kim, (jaw cancer), you are my jewels, as precious to me now as you were when I was lucky enough to know you on this earth.

All the ravages of time they can withstand

Like talismans their grace keeps me from harm

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At the walk starting point I left “New Every Morning” by Susan Coolidge.

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poem is on lamppost

This wonderful little poem is almost a prayer, and one I turned to many times during treatment and post-treatment anxiety. Maybe someone who needed a little hope took the poem home. For everyone else, it’s a great one to memorize, because how often do we need to hear this:

Take heart with the new day and begin again.

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On the railing of the penguin house I left Rita Dove’s “Pastoral.”

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I left it in celebration of breasts, how beautiful, how wonderful they are, giving food and pleasure to others.

 

I love this description of a nursing baby:

Like an otter, but warm,

she latched onto the shadowy tip

and I watched, diminished

by those amazing gulps.

 

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For women who have had breasts “diminished” in ways much worse than breastfeeding, I brought an excerpt from an Afanasy Fet poem. I left it near a peacock. My picture doesn’t capture the beauty of this bird, but I hope the poem reminds women of the beauty they have, no matter what surgery has done to their bodies.

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Losing breast tissue doesn’t make you less whole or less beautiful, or as Fet puts it,

All, all that once was mine is mine forever.

 

(Sorry I can’t provide a link to the complete poem. I found it in a little book of Russian poetry my sister gave to me. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere online.)

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Near a flock of flamingoes, some of them skittering along in a kind of flying run, I left a famous couplet of Andrew Marvell’s:

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poem is on fence post

 

This one is for everyone, to make use of the precious little time we have.

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Finally, I left “For Friendship” by Robert Creeley on a trashcan and asked Lisa’s group, “The Pink Honeybees,” to link arms as they passed by the poem.

poem is on trashcan

poem is on trashcan

This, the gift of suffering, any suffering:

to be bound to 

others, two by two

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When I was rushing to take this picture, I whacked my shin on a park bench, and came home with a bruise the size of my old breasts. (They weren’t very big for breasts, but the bruise was big for a bruise.) So here I am, bruised but glad to be bruised, like so many of the people at the walk that day.

 

Cheers to Lisa!

Cheers to Joi, Patty, Deb from Delaware.

Cheers to all the survivors who walked that day.

And a special cheers to those who walked beside, to those who form the chain that holds.

 

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WILL_RECITE_POETRY_DUBLIN by Richard Abrams, M.D.After my last post about the value of memorizing poetry, a reader requested a list of great poems to memorize for the summer.

 

 

 

 

My list is short:  the greatest poem to memorize for the summer is a poem you love.

Runcible by ART NAHPRO

a runcible spoon

 

Love is why children memorize Mother Goose rhymes.  Love is why poetry critic David Orr’s father wanted to hear Edward Lear’s “Owl and the Pussycat” over and over as he lay dying of cancer.  (That poem tops my list of poems to memorize, by the way.  It fairly trips off the tongue.  And as Orr’s father put it, “I really like the runcible spoon.”)

 

Most of us have memorized more poems than we imagine, if you include limericks and jump rope rhymes, and in my household, the Little Willie poems (children love these gruesome poems).  If you want to stick with nonsense and rhyme, try Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”   It’s plain old fun to say out loud:

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!

  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

  The frumious Bandersnatch!”

(In a poetry-recitation contest I once held, a student recited all of “Jabberwocky” with a growly Scottish accent.  He won, hands down.)

The Golden Books Family Treasury Of Poetry $48 by jasperjade

 

The best resource for kids or adults memorizing poetry is The Golden Books Family Treasury of Poetry.  I grew up with that book, spent hours flipping through the 400 poems and looking at the illustrations.  You can still order it from Barnes and NobleTreasury, and indeed it is, has such gems as Ogden Nash’s “Introduction to Dogs” (still funny), classics for memorizing like Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride” (Listen my children and you shall hear/Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere), lots of Lear, some Dickinson, Whitman, Bishop, and plenty of silly poems children love.

 

On the web there’s an enormous list of poems to memorize at Poetry Out Loud.  Poetry Out Loud is a national recitation contest for high school students.

 

That should be all you need for the summer, but still, I’ll make you a list.

 

Poem Elf’s List of Poems for Memorizing

 

1.  For a first-time ever memorizing experience:  “New Every Morning” by Susan Coolidge.   This little poem is a cinch to memorize and exceedingly useful, like a breath mint or Kleenex, for times you need to start afresh.  I’ll reprint it rather than link it to encourage memorization:

Every day is a fresh beginning,

Listen my soul to the glad refrain.

And, spite of old sorrows

And older sinning,

Troubles forecasted

And possible pain,

Take heart with the new day and begin again.

(FYI, I wrote that from memory.  Just needed to check on the punctuation.)

 

2.  For summer:  Yeats’ “The Isle of Lake Innisfree.”   It’s fairly short, it’s broken up into stanzas, it rhymes and the sounds are so pleasurable they’re like caramels in your mouth.

 

3.  For fall:  “Spring and Fall to a Young Child” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  Another poem that trips off the tongue.

 

4.  In preparation for Dec. 21, 2012 (the Mayan calendar end-of-the-world date): Yeats’ “Second Coming.”  Worth memorizing for its many unforgettable lines:  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

 

5.  For when you’ve got a Burt Bacharach “I just don’t know what to do with myself” kind of moment:  Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Wild Swans.”  You’ll settle down when you can say to yourself, “Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,/House without air, I leave you and lock your door.”

 

6.  For a middle-aged crisis and for a quick feeling of accomplishment:  A.E. Housman’s “With Rue My Heart is Laden.”  Effortlessly memorized and timeless.

 

7.  For a challenge:  T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It’s long, but it’s musical.  (Since my last my last post, I’ve memorized the first part.)   Or Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach.”  And Anthony Hecht’s parody of that poem, “Dover Bitch.”

 

8.  To impress:  any of Shakespeare’s sonnets.  Imagine being called on for a toast at a friend’s birthday party and being able to pull out these lines from Sonnet 104:

To me, fair friend, you never can be old,


For as you were when first your eye I ey’d,


Such seems your beauty still.

 

This list could be endless, but I’ll stop myself here.

 

Anyone have some favorites they’ve memorized?  How have they come in handy?

 

 

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