TODAY IN LITERATURE – “The wonderful thing about literature…”

In January 2010, Classical Pursuits travelled to Key West, Florida to discuss the work of several American poets for whom Key West figured prominently in their lives and in their verse.

Rachel Hadas (l) with Susan Zimmerman and Wendy Lawrence in Key West

We had the great good fortune of spending time with Rachel Hadas who was a presenter at the Key West Lilterary Seminar. Rachel has been a celebrated poet for a long time, but she shared with us the deeply painful experience of her husband’s early onset dementia. She has recently published Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry.

You can listen to a terrific interview with Rachel Hadas on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.  She talks about the great help she finds in the arts, particularly poetry. “The wonderful thing aobut literature is that it helps us live our lives, and life helps us pay attention to literature. It’s a feedback loop.”

Here is a witty poem I like from her 2004 anthology, Laws.

Basic Human Dread

When asked about her mood,
the younger poet said
“Basic human dread.
Poems I want to write”
pile up inside my head.
Books I ought to read
pile up beside the bed
I lie in late,
both of us unmade.
The lover whom I need
is nowhere to be found
in or out of bed,”
the younger poet continued.
“Then I pull up the shade,
survey the neighborhood.
People on the street,
the beautiful and good,
the hideous and bad,
equally on parade.
Can they be separated?
How can I understand
this blurred enormous world
And then I turn my mind,
or it turns of its own accord,
to my dear father, dead,”
the younger poet said.

“I understand,”
the older poet said.
(And it was true. I did.)
“But seen as daily bread,
even human dread
gets weary, stale and old,”
the older poet continued.
“So I’d climb ouit of bed,
go out into the world.
Those books you haven’t read–
you will. Inside your head
poems do no good.
Write them down. Download
them, give them to the world,”
big Rachel said.

Little Rachel replied
“It’s not as if the world
is waiting for my ode,
my sonnet, my ballade.”

“It just might be,”
the older poet said.
“The poem you may write
could be just what we need,
just what the doctor ordered,
if what you write’s an ode,
a sonnet, a ballade
on basic human dread,”
big Rachel said.

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