I’ve been reading a lot of poetry since my last post. Often poetry is what I go to when feeling contemplative about life and loss. I guess what I like about reading poetry is that moment of recognition, when all the emotions and images come together and suddenly everything is illuminated. I like how poets find the profound in the mundane, the sublime in the everyday.
James Still is one of my favorite writers. He was a novelist, a short story writer, a poet. He was a Kentuckian. In fact he was the first Kentucky Poet Laureate. I never got to meet James Still. But his work has had a huge influence on my own writing. He had a pitch perfect ear for how real people talk — especially people living in eastern Kentucky. His stories, often about boys growing wild on the mountainside or getting into trouble in coal towns, seem simple, but each one is so finely layered with meaning and truth, each one is a masterpiece.
I was recently reading through The New and Collected Poems by James Still, which was published in 2001, and came upon a poem that really spoke to me as a writer about how truly tenuous the act of writing can be, how fragile the moment of creation.
There was a poem here yesterday,
But not now.
It sat for many an hour
It went away for lack
Of ears to hear,
Eyes to see,
Hearts to open.
The poem went away
and did not look back.
I think the line I love the most is: hearts to open. Being a writer, or any kind of artist, means having to open yourself up. To possibilities, to risks, to hope, to failure.