The death of a poet doesn’t make headlines.

Earlier this month, scrolling through my Instagram feed, I noticed that a friend who normally posts her fantastic comics and sketches had instead shared a photo of a page of poetry. She commented that one of her favorite poets had died: Thomas Lux. He was also one of my favorites; this same friend had introduced me to his work. (We also share a love of Adrienne Rich, who we had the privilege of meeting at a lecture and book signing at MIT years ago. I’d like to say that we handled ourselves on that occasion with grace and gravitas, but we did not. We were both a little star-struck.)

As I searched online for more details about Thomas Lux’s passing, I discovered he had died almost 10 days earlier, on February 5th. How had I not known about this? Why didn’t I read about it somewhere? I answered my own question, surprising myself: the death of a poet doesn’t make headlines in today’s America.

As it turns out, this is not literally true in the case of Thomas Lux. The New York Times published his obituary (17 days after his death), and The Atlantic has a lovely memorial, complete with an audio recording of the poem “Virgule”. And maybe I’m being too cynical, as I’m sure that significant American poets – Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Adrienne Rich, to name just a few – received due recognition and praise at their passing.

Still, I can’t shake the feeling that precisely at a time when poetry should mean more – when we need its honesty and insight and surprise like never before – it (and those who write it) are being overlooked or ignored. I hear the truth in what Audre Lord said: “…poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”

So I invite you, in memory of an American poet, to take a few minutes to read the poetry of Thomas Lux. There’s Refrigerator, 1957, with a beautiful gut-punch of an ending that took my breath away the first time I read it. Or Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy, which is about exactly that. Or The Voice You Hear When You Read Silently, which will give a new perspective on something you do all the time – something you’re doing right now.

Next time I’ll catch you up on life in Amsterdam, our new apartment, and our recent travels, but for now, some poetry is necessary.

My New Year’s Resolution

I’m not big on New Year’s Eve, or the idea of making resolutions. At least not at the turn of the year. The memory of new shoes and unsullied notebooks at the start of a school year never quite fades. And even though I’m years removed from the first day of school, September always seems like the right time to start fresh. These bleak mid-winter days of January – dark, short, cold – are a time for cuddling up with our old habits and lazy ways. It’s a terrible time to start exercising or dieting, or resolving to do anything other than read, watch old movies, maybe write a letter or two.

That said, I do have one New Year’s tradition, which is to read and to share a New Year’s poem. The same poem, every year, since I always need to hear what the poet is telling me. It’s called, simply, “New Year’s Resolution”, by Phillip Appleman. Some of the references are to American sporting traditions on New Year’s Day, specifically the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, but the message is universal. We all end a year with some regret, and we start a year with the promise to do better.

Regardless of where this finds you, may you enter 2016 with a joyful heart and a resolution to break your losing streak. Happy New Year!

Well, I did it again, bringing in
that infant Purity across the land,
welcoming Innocence with gin
in New York, waiting up
to help Chicago,
Denver, L.A., Fairbanks, Honolulu–and now
the high school bands are alienating Dallas
and girls in gold and tangerine
have lost touch with Pasadena,
and young men with biceps and missing teeth
are dreaming of personal fouls,
and it’s all beginning again, just like
those other Januaries in
instant replay …
But I’ve had enough
of turning to look back, the old
post-morteming of defeat:
people I loved but didn’t touch,
friends I haven’t seen for years,
strangers who smiled but didn’t speak–failures,
failures. No,
I refuse to leave it at that–because
somewhere, off camera,
January is coming like Venus
up from the murk of December, re-
virginized, as innocent
of loss as any dawn. Resolved: this year
I’m going to break my losing streak,
I’m going to stay alert, reach out,
speak when not spoken to,
read the minds of people in the streets,
I’m going to practice every day,
stay in training and be moderate
in all things.
All things but love.
 

 

 

“Everything is Waiting for You”

I’m writing this tonight from the kitchen table. There are cookies baking in the oven, in preparation for a holiday party at my office in a few days. If you know me, you know that my Christmas cookies are the stuff of legend. I don’t say this to brag – and maybe some of my readers will comment and back me up – but to highlight the fact that here, my baking is not quite up to par. It may be the ingredients or the oven or the (lack of) altitude or some combination of factors. But for some reason, everything I have tried to make here is just a little…off.

I suspect that the run-up to the holidays can make all of us feel a little “off”, too. Not quite ourselves. Not happy with how we are acting, how we treat those we love. Wanting to be calmer, more patient, more generous, more aware. Desperate for deeper connections to counter a world that seems, at least for the next few weeks, grossly commercial and superficial.

As I said recently, I often turn to writers – especially poets – when life tosses me around and I need something solid to hold on to. In the past few months, English poet David Whyte has been by my side. First, it was his  book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. I wrote about it in October and I can’t stop returning to it. Give yourself an early Christmas gift and read it.

Tonight, though, as I sat here with my slightly “off” cookies and my equally “off” self, it was Whyte’s poetry that threw me a lifeline and shook me awake . And since I cannot share the cookies, I offer the poem to you, and invite you to “ease into the conversation” however you like and with whomever you need.

You can listen to Whyte read the poem here; I love his voice and the repetition of certain phrases, especially at the end. Or read it slowly to yourself, in your own voice, and let your alertness grow, your aloneness dissipate.

Everything, everything, everything is waiting for you.

Everything is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.