“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.” The Dalai Lama.
What I’ve been wanting lately is to teach more yoga classes. For a variety of reasons, this isn’t happening, but having some extra time on my hands has given me the space to think about other passions, e.g. the reading of poetry out loud. I have been reading poems at the conclusion of my classes since I began teaching yoga in 1998, and I know some of the poems I’ve chosen, e.g. Mary Oliver’s The Journey, resonate with students so much, I get requests for copies. I write poetry, too, almost as much today as I did when I took Larry Raab’s poetry workshop at the Breadloaf School of English in Vermont. Writing poetry is a private affair. Reading poetry — mine or others — out loud is an act of communion.
Last week, a new door opened and I walked through it with no idea where it may lead. A friend and fellow yogi who teaches a pro bono class to blind students was casting around for something new to offer them. I found myself agreeing to read poetry to them the following week on a see-how-it-goes basis.
The class ranges in age from mid-twenties to 60-something, two men, five women. Two are suffering from macular degeneration and are partially sighted. All of them seemed eager to experience something and someone new. After the introductions — I walked around where they were seated and clasped their hands as we exchanged names — I asked them about first poems. The older among them all recalled having to memorize and recite in class. They thought it made children dread poetry. The younger immediately spoke about having Dr. Seuss read to them as children. A happier memory.
They were eager for me to begin reading so I started off with some light verse from Dr. Seuss: Do you like green eggs and ham? I started. I do not like them, Sam-I-am, they chorused back. Â Wow! Next, Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussy Cat, followed by Jabberwocky (smiles). Some e e cummings, Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken (a sigh or two). Billy Collins’ Dharma — ‘Oh, yes!’ ‘My dog is named that.’ We talked a little about how poems make us feel. ‘Funny inside.’ ‘Emotional.’ ‘Light.’ Next, Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing, then A Pot of Red Lentils by Peter Pereira (Please read that again! ) Â Finally, Pablo Neruda’s Ode to My Socks. ‘Mmm-hmm!’ Applause.
Our class was almost over. I asked: How would you like to write a poem next time? (Next time?) Richard already writes poetry, a woman sitting next to him said. A brief pause, for Richard to collect himself. Then, he launched into a recitation of two originals, topped with a third, composed in the moment. Not just good. ‘Twas brillig.
The Writers Almanac Comes to your inbox daily. Garrison Keillor’s reading of the featured poem is a great way to start the day.