i carry your heart

I’m a poet at heart.

Back in college, I was the classic English major bouncing around campus with a novel in her hands and newly-released iPod earbuds in her ears. I have incredibly happy memories of wandering the University of Maryland campus, getting lost on the mall — sunny days when I was alone but not lonely.

Because I commuted to school for three years, I didn’t have many on-campus friends. There were times I wouldn’t speak to another living soul until I’d call my mom to check in on my lunch break, my voice hoarse with disuse. But what I did have?

Poems.

I had a creative writing focus in my English program . . . but not in anything I actually, you know, use now. No, friends, I was a poetry student — someone who literally sat in the shade of a tree and jotted down random thoughts because I had an “assignment” — a poem — due in class in an hour.

Those poetry classes, though occasionally tedious, were some of the happiest in my life. They were one of the few times I didn’t feel anonymous on campus, for one; because our class was only 12-15 students, rather than the typical 30-300, I actually felt seen. Even when I was basically told I was a no-talent hack who should have chosen a different major (whatevs), I loved those classes. Loved pouring over others’ words.

We studied poets too, of course. I remember a few of the works I selected to read aloud as some of my favorites, my inspiration. While classmates chose highfalutin never-heard-of-’em writers, maybe to impress the lot of us, I stuck with tried and true classics. Like E. E. Cummings.

When Spencer and I were working with our officiant on our wedding ceremony, I knew I wanted to share a poem. Though my post-college life has been dedicated to my column, humorous narratives and blog posts, I still harbor a deep love of poetry. The ability of writers like Cummings to cut right to the heart of readers with one perfectly-worded, incandescent thought just amazes me.

It didn’t take long for me to come up with the work I wanted read. After asking my matron of honor — my lovely sister — if she’d mind a little public speaking, we settled on “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in],” first published in 1952.

Made famous in a wedding scene from “In Her Shoes,” I’ve loved the poem for as long as I can remember — and love that, on our wedding day, it spoke not only to the love between Spencer and me but also to the idea that we can carry the hearts of so many we love. It’s much deeper than that, I know, but it’s also . . . just as simple as that.

I loved it. Katie rocked it. It was a highlight of our day — and included on half of the bookmark wedding favors that left with our guests.


Katie reading


[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

By E. E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)


Reprinted from The Poetry Foundation.
For poem’s original formatting, please visit the link.


Spencer and me


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Of which only the heart knows


Sometimes you find a postcard, and sometimes a postcard finds you.

After last week’s post and other musings on my desire to slow down and enjoy the simple moments, the postcard above arrived from Frank in Germany. As I went the Spanish route in high school and know exactly zero German (except, you know, gutentag), I had to rely on alternate help.

Since I couldn’t find an English translation of “Kleines Glück” online, I did some investigative work — and that turned out to be the most fun I had all day. Google Translate never lets me down. For someone madly in love with words, examining the sentiment behind the poem — “Little Pleasures” or “Small Fortune” in English, I think — was fascinating.

I went through the alternate translations for every word, stitching Irmgard Erath’s poem together like a quilt. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but that’s okay. Like all art, it’s open to interpretation. And this time? The interpretation was mine. That feeling was bold and empowering. It felt like deciphering an ancient text — and this text was all too applicable to my own life.

“Little Pleasures” reminds me how truly alike we all are. And how, with our incredible technology, not even language can separate us now.


Little Pleasures
by Irmgard Erath

Each day carries thousands of possibilities
for joy, for hope
and is a small fortune in itself:
Very quietly and unnoticed
in the midst of this noisy world
can the magnificent happen.
There are those small events
that make life bright and beautiful —
those precious moments
of which only the heart knows.


“First Poem For You” was the first poem for me

In my infinite wisdom (or just desire to not have to take a gym class), I signed up for a poetry class my senior year of high school. I was already writing quite a bit at the time, piecing thoughts together as prose and poetry when we sat down for our first class. Our teacher was a young, sensitive man who actually wrote some of his own stuff, too; we often begged him to read us his material. And he’s the one who poured Kim Addonizio on me for the first time.

Hearing him read “First Poem For You” was like someone throwing hot battery acid on my skin. What was once quiet, these little stretches of my heart, expanded. Here was a poem that spoke to me in a way that Dickinson, Shakespeare or Frost never could. Here were words that meant something, that resonated; here was contemporary poetry.

And I’ve never forgotten it.

In college, I went on to major in English Literature and entered into my university’s creative writing program, where I scribbled my own poetry and had it critiqued and graded by poets-as-professors and peers. In my four years in the English department, I thumbed through countless anthologies and heard a million sonnets, limericks and rhymes.

But nothing has superceded Addonizio’s “First Poem For You” in my mind; nothing can nudge it out as My Most Favorite Of All Poems Of All Time. 

Eight years after first hearing it, I’m still reading — and loving — this poem. It morphs each time I scan it, offering me a little more than what I saw before. It’s about permanence, transience; about loving despite knowing that someday, it could all be ripped away. That it will be ripped away as things change and take shape. That we will change as our lives take shape.

But some things never change.


First Poem for You

I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you

to me, taking you until we’re spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until
you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.


It’s one line that haunted me and haunts me still: “Whatever persists or turns to pain between us . . .” I’ve yet to find a more gorgeous moment in a poem. It’s work like this that, once again, makes me question whether I could possibly rip something that honest and real out of me. I hope to God I can.



Addonizio, who lives and writes in California, has authored two novels and five poetry collections, one of which — Tell Me — was nominated for a National Book Award. “First Poem For You” comes from her collection The Philosopher’s Club, published in 1994. Her website is www.kimaddonizio.com.

Thank you to Serena of Savvy Verse & Wit for sponsoring the National Poetry Month Blog Tour! Visit her to read many other great posts on fabulous poets during the month of April.


Two Girls Read Shakespeare: Sonnets 30 & 109

Welcome to another Friday of Two Girls Read Shakespeare! If you’re just joining us, Nicole (of Linus’s Blanket) and I have embarked on a project to spend this spring with Mr. William Shakespeare, that most classic of playwrights and poets. Read more about our project here and check out the first installment of sonnets here.

Nicole: Now Meg you picked these two out or us to study. What made you think that Sonnets 30 and 109 would be good to examine together?

Megan: For me, Sonnet 109 has a really different “feel” than many of the others — and definitely different than Sonnets 18 and 130! The tone of the poet here is almost boastful while still being imploring as he admits to having been unfaithful and “false of heart.” On the flip side, Sonnet 30 features a speaker who is melancholy and “paying” debts — through grief — as though they haven’t already been satisfied. The two tones here, so different, really appealed to me!


Sonnet 30

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye (unused to flow)
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee (dear friend)
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.


Megan: In Sonnet 30, we meet a narrator whose mind drifts to the past and friends he’s lost, either through death or other circumstances. Lovers, too, seem to have gone by the wayside, and the poet weeps “afresh love’s long since canceled woe.” By the end of the sonnet, of course, the speaker’s hope and faith have been restored by thinking of a new “dear friend” — and all that suffering drifts away.

What really struck me about this sonnet was one particular line: “Which I new pay as if not paid before.” In the context of the whole poem, I took it to mean feeling grief all over again — experiencing pain as if we haven’t hurt before, and as if this hasn’t already broken us. Sometimes heartbreak feels like that, doesn’t it? Like “paying” a debt again and again with no end in sight. That definitely resonated with me.

Nicole: My first thoughts, I must confess were not as deep as my partner in crimes’ thoughts were. I saw the line, “I summon up remembrance of things past”, and thought, “So that is where that phrase comes from!” I had to read this one a few times (like I didn’t have to do with all the others!), but somehow I felt like the language was a lot more flowery than what we read last week, and I had more difficulty getting at the meaning behind the words. I understood maybe the first 4-6 lines and then it got a little crazy.

As I got to the end of the sonnet I felt like I was seeing a pattern emerge, and that Shakespeare was really obsessed with immortality and keeping things alive through memory because there he is again saying that he can be happy as long as he has his memories of his dead friends. Would you agree Meg?

Megan: Absolutely! Shakespeare is very preoccupied with living through and beyond words — and, through the sonnets, keeping alive those whom he loves. We saw this obsession in Sonnet 18 last week — how we all age and eventually die, but as long as Shakespeare’s poetry is available, his loves live on. Sounds like our man William was living in a constant existential crisis! And, you know, I can relate to that.

Nicole: Yes! He sounds very angsty and brooding. I think he might have been a hipster and would have lived out in Williamsburg in Brooklyn had he been alive today.

Megan: Oh, I can totally see that now — with the skinny jeans and a notebook, lounging under a tree and looking at all of the young families with their strollers, curling up a lip at the other hipsters with their Starbucks cups and iPhones. I think Shakespeare would be living off the grid, lost in deep thoughts and distancing himself from society.

Nicole: Or maybe living underneath the city in the subway tunnels! But we digress. On to 109!


Sonnet 109

O never say that I was false of heart,
Though absence seemed my flame to qualify,
As easy might I from my self depart,
As from my soul which in thy breast doth lie:
That is my home of love, if I have ranged,
Like him that travels I return again,
Just to the time, not with the time exchanged,
So that my self bring water for my stain,
Never believe though in my nature reigned,
All frailties that besiege all kinds of blood,
That it could so preposterously be stained,
To leave for nothing all thy sum of good:
For nothing this wide universe I call,
Save thou my rose, in it thou art my all.


Megan: Sonnet 109 really made me think. According to my handy-dandy Folger Shakespeare Library edition, the poet is imploring his love to recognize that though he has strayed and been unfaithful, he should be forgiven — because he’s returned. There’s no promise to do better, of course, nor any apology for having presumably hurt his love. “O never say that I was false of heart” — never claim that I didn’t love you! Except, you know, you were gone and cheating on me. This sonnet feels really different to me. Am I just projecting here? Was that a vibe you got, Nicole?

Nicole: I definitely got that vibe and it got my dander up as I was reading it. It’s a lot like things I have experienced with dating and with my own friends where men kind of run around and then when they get ready just show up again on their terms and when they are ready to deal with a relationship. No questions asked. Not that we would have these problems with our boy Billy because once again he is talking about another dude.

Another very modern poet thinks along similar lines.

Still I left you for months on end*
It’s been months since I checked back in
Was somewhere in a small town, somewhere lockin a mall down
Woodgrain, four and change, armor all down
I can understand why you want a divorce now
Though I can’t let you know it, pride won’t let me show it
Pretend to be heroic, that’s just one to grow with
But deep inside a n***a so sick

I think he was just expecting to show up again after he got finished on tour and with whomever he was keeping time and pick up where things left off but his girl had made other plans! Good for her.

Megan: Excellent tie-in with modern language, Nicole — color me impressed! From Will to Jay-Z, the boys keep trying to run games with us. Some things never change.

Nicole: I have to say that Jay gives more reasons than Will though for his shenanigans. Misguided and delusional reasons that ultimately don’t matter, but he does give you a little more to work with.


Further Discussion


Q: In Sonnet 109, the poet claims that despite his infidelities, he has returned to his lover — and should be forgiven. Would a carefully-worded sonnet be enough to gain back your trust?

Nicole: Uh, no. I think for me there is a certain period where I can be actively engaged and invested in working on a relationship but when you disappear, then I have to make my peace with that and move on. At that point it will take a lot more than some pretty words for me to consider rearranging my life for someone who has proved unfaithful and untrustworthy. Nice try Will!

Megan: I’m a sucker for pretty words, but I don’t think someone showing up and saying, “Hey, I know I haven’t exactly been around — but you are ‘my home of love,’ so, let’s just pick up where we left off. Sound good?” would be enough for me. The sentiment in Sonnet 109 is almost challenging.

Nicole: Challenging is such a nice word for it.

Megan: Oh, you know, I try to be diplomatic. “Condescending” could have also worked there, I think.

Nicole: Along with arrogant, selfish, ego-maniacal… I could go on. But I’ll stop here.


Q: Does the “dear friend” of Sonnet 30 seem to be a friend or lover? Would mere friendship be enough to heal old wounds, especially heartbreak?

Megan: Though friendship has the power to help and save us, I’m not sure it is enough to erase the past. The “dear friend” here seems to be a lover or potential lover — and that makes sense to me in the context. Friends are definitely the people you need to wrap an arm around you during times of heartache, but the Bard’s “remembrances of things past” seem very melancholy. He’d probably need more than friendship to help him process those memories!

Nicole: I would think that it was romantic too because I think that we tend to attach intensely melancholy feelings to failed relationships for far longer than we do with friends. When he says “And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe”, that sounds pretty intense to me. I think feelings can be more intense where the potential for a lover was lost just because we usually have fewer of them running around our lives. People can’t compensate for other people, but we do grow up used to the idea that we might lose friends as we progress through different stages in our lives- like moving, changing schools, changing jobs, and just changing in general. With love we are trained to keep it, and usually won’t let it go “without a fight”. People will pay some pretty high costs to keep love.

Megan: So well-said! And I completely agree. The intensity surrounding a potential love — or floundering relationship — is much greater than feelings of friendship, as it should be.


Q: What about friendship? Do you look back on people with whom you aren’t friends with anymore and take comfort in your memories? Is there a difference if the friend has died as opposed to if they are just no longer in your life?

Nicole: None of my friends have died, thankfully, but just through natural growth and change I have lost friends over the course of my life. Initially when a friendship is over even the happy memories are colored with a sense of sadness, anger or betrayal, especially now that you know the “ending”. But Shakespeare seems to be looking back over a great amount of time and for me after a few years, and with the wounds no longer fresh, I can really delight in all the fun and crazy times I had with a friend and honor who we both were even though we have moved on.

Megan: I’ve been fortunate never to bear the loss of a friend through death, but I do take comfort in old memories of friends with whom I haven’t kept in touch or, in some cases, “broken up” with. Friendships are relationships, too — not romantic, of course, but still relationships that require time, compassion, understanding and dedication. In cases where I chose not to be friends with someone anymore, or vice versa, it can be a little painful to look back on those times… knowing, as I do, how things have changed. I guess that’s partially what Shakespeare is saying in Sonnet 30, too — that the pain he feels like looking back colors the happy times. But the arrival of someone new, a “dear friend” he can think of and feel better? That makes a difference. But I’m not sure if that’s the case for me.


Join us next Friday, Feb. 26 as we discuss Sonnets 11 and 116.
All of the Bard’s sonnets may be found here.

*lyrics from “Song Cry” by Jay-Z


What do these sonnets do for you?

Love them, hate them?

Share your thoughts with us!

the atlantic ocean makes a comeback

pen_journalLike cleaning out an attic, basement or bedroom, cleaning out the files on my flash drive is a daunting task! It’s impossible to tell what I’ll find on there: old novels, started then discarded; random photos I’ve culled into “collections” over the years; bits of story ideas, some developed; favorite quotes; graphics I’ve made for others, and for myself.

The most surprising thing I’ve found lately is a collection of poetry created in my senior year of college. During my final semester in the creative writing program, we were asked to compile our favorite works by poets both popular and unknown. I had a crazy time trying to narrow it down to less than twenty, but I did succeed — and I put them all in one Word document, making sure I had the fonts and spacing exactly similar for each one! That’s my editor OCD kicking in again.

Since printing out those poems and putting them in a folder two and a half years ago, I’d completely forgotten about my project — which I called “atlantic ocean.” I wasn’t into using capital letters then — including in my own name! — and I’d forgotten how different and serious I was! I guess that’s a byproduct of sitting around, writing poetry all day. Poets aren’t typically heel-clicking, cackling and ecstatic people. In fact, a lot of sallow-faced, beret-wearing scribblers come to mind! (For the record, I look terrible in hats — no beret for me.)

So who made the cut and was featured in Megan’s “atlantic ocean: an anthology”? Folks like Robert Frost , Billy Collins and Charles Simic, of course, but also outstanding writers like Li-Young Lee , Kim Addonizio and Galway Kinnell.

Poetry was once such an enormous part of my life, I would actually find myself “translating” life into poetry as I went about my daily nonsense! As I strolled across campus, sat down to have lunch or tapped a pen restlessly against a desk, I would try to pick out pieces of everyday living that made me question what I was or where I was going. Or just to look at something simple — something mundane — and examine it with fresh, open eyes. Since finishing my time in the English department and departing for the “real world,” my life-to-poetry translator device has been switched off like a basement light. I wonder how much of that was a conscious decision on my part and how much was merely life becoming, for a time, less interesting and less beautiful.

I wrote my first poem in two years this weekend and, though it’s certainly nothing to matte and frame, I’m proud of it. I’m proud that, for the first time in a long time, I parted my lips with something to say. Something that was real — something just for me. And finding this anthology buried in my files has only made the moment that much sweeter!

As fall is settling down into the crevices of every sidewalk, back yard and shopping mall, my life, too, is beginning again.

And I can’t talk about poetry without sharing poetry, so here are a few of my favorites from “atlantic ocean”:



Eating Together
by Li-Young Lee

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.



Love Poem
by Linda Pastan

I want to write you
a love poem as headlong
as our creek
after thaw
when we stand
on its dangerous
banks and watch it carry
with it every twig
every dry leaf and branch
in its path
every scruple
when we see it
so swollen
with runoff
that even as we watch
we must grab
each other
and step back
we must grab each
other or
get our shoes
soaked we must
grab each other