Notes for a Poetic Evening

Last night was another spectacular evening at Read to Succeed. The crowd grew from 12 last time to about 40, and we enjoyed inspired readings of poetry, essays, stories from students and faculty and staff at the YMCA, which sponsors the program.

We had beautiful flowers, great food and much joy, especially the report that the students had raised more than $2,000 over the past month for the Strong Kids Campaign.

It was tough to follow the presentation of awards for the reading competition and the fund-raising campaign, so I threw out a challenge. I asked if anyone had thought or talked about the origins of poetry.

I mentioned that some believed it came from song; that others thought it was part of religious worship. Talked a bit about The White Goddess and Robert Graves. He was an expert who said poetry developed as a form of worship of the ancient moon goddess. He wrote a book that was almost 500 pages to explain it, based on Irish, Celtic sources. I also said that I had read the book and understood about a quarter of it.

Graves believed that women were too close to the goddess to write poetry. And I noted that he didn’t think much of poetry written by men, either. He said the mark of true poetry was that it made the hair on the back of the neck stand up – made one’s hackles rise.

Then I said that I believe that poetry had its origins in the sound of the human heart. That echoing noise they reproduce on the medical shows comes across as lub-DUB, lub-DUB is the most common rhythm in poetry. It’s called an iamb.

Then I read a famous example, playing all three parts.

1st Witch:  Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
2nd Witch:  Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined.
3rd Witch:  Harpier cries; ’tis time, ’tis time.
1st Witch:  Round about the cauldron go;
In the poison’d entrails throw.
Toad, that under cold stone
Days and nights has thirty-one
Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
All:  Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

I asked the students if they knew where it came from. No one could guess until I said it was written by the most famous writer in the English-speaking world. One student got it – William Shakespeare. I explained that the play was Macbeth and that the last production I had seen the witches were three rap queens. It was the production starring Patrick Stewart that Larry and I attended at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It’s funny because I thought I had blogged about it but we saw it about six months before I started this blog. Anyway, the students seemed fascinated by the idea of rapping to Shakespeare.

Even though we were celebrating poetry, I explained that I don’t share my scribblings. Instead, I read Mother’s short story “Solo on the Drums,” which I feel captures the rhythms and the passion of poetry, even though it was written in prose.

My presentation was followed by a wonderful assortment of poems and essays and readings from students and staff of the program and of the Y.

My favorites: a student’s essay about her daughter whom she reprimanded for pounding on the shower and making noise who has made and produced three music CDs and now has serious backers and connections to producers who work for Rhianna and Lady Gaga. Also the Y CEO Kevin Washington read part of a speech that he heard as a thirteen-year-old student in Philadelphia. The speaker was Martin Luther King who had come to the city to raise money for the movement. King spoke eloquently about having the need for a blueprint in one’s life. Here’s a link to part of that speech.

Read to Succeed left me so energized I was able to get up this morning and power through a draft of The Paper.


One Response to “Notes for a Poetic Evening”

  1. From Whitman to Hughes to the Talent at Read to Succeed « Lizr128′s Blog Says:

    […] time I go to Read to Succeed (“Notes for a Poetic Evening”) it gets better. I see folks I’ve seen before and some new faces. One of the women told me […]

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