It’s no secret that I keep a poetry journal. It is a way to interact with poems I’m reading and a way to save those that are special to me. Every year I start a new poetry journal, and my new year starts the first Sunday in Advent. This year that’s November 29. I even typed “Happy New Year” into that date in my online calendar.
Right around Thanksgiving, I make a big pot of tea and reread all the poems in my journal. Inevitably, it ends up being a commentary on the year itself. I’ve been following this practice since 2002, and believe me, the poems say more than I could in a thousand pages of journaling. The 2020 journal will be an interesting one to revisit. We’ve all had the pandemic. I also had the loss of my father, who lived next door to me for the last two-and-a-half years.
How to sum up an entire life in a single poem? Surely, it’s impossible.
But a few days after Dad died, I found this brief gem by Robert Herrick, published in 1648 in his collection Hesperides.
A JUST MAN
A just man’s like a rock that turns the wrath
Of all the raging waves into a froth.
Well, bless my heart. That works. Let’s dive into these waves, shall we?
The first thing I notice is that all the words have one syllable, except for two, raging and into.
Not exactly SAT-level vocabulary, but nevertheless, effective.
Now, rhyme. Wrath and froth mostly rhyme, as do rock and froth. Poets often use these near rhymes or slant rhymes that are not quite but close enough. In this poem, the almost-rhymes make us link these three words: rock, wrath, froth. One of them, rock, doesn’t seem to belong, but the poet tells us it is the key word, the one that turns wrath into froth.
There’s a lot of movement and emotion in this short poem — wrath and raging, waves and froth. That would seem to indict this just man is an aggressive fellow. But we’re told he’s “like a rock.” Solid. Powerful. Unyielding.
Finally, the man in the poem is just. It says so twice, and repetition is always important. I looked up the word, and found it goes back to the 14th century, meaning “right,” “faithful,” and even “law.” Those words sound a lot like my dad.
POETRY JOURNALING: READING AND WRITING
During his last years and since his passing, I have written many poems about my father. They are all poems I needed to write, whether or not they are worth publishing. But there is also this need to find poems others have written that say things I never considered but that are nevertheless true.
That’s why we need to read and write poetry. Why we need to save it and journal about it. And at year’s end, when we see where we’ve traveled, we’ll marvel at how every step was written before we laced up our shoes.
TRY IT: A POEM FOR THE JOURNEY
In Neruda’s Memoirs, Maureen Doallas has a poem called “Calculating Feelings by the Sun and Moon,” (scroll down) in which she uses data from the U.S. Naval Observatory’s website to describe her feelings of missing someone. I looked up the date of my father’s passing, September 11, 2020, and used the data to write a poem.
CALCULATING, SEPTEMBER 11
with gratitude for Maureen Doallas’ “Calculating Feelings by the Sun and the Moon”
The moon rises at 1:01 a.m.
when it sets
I won’t see your crescent wane
at 1:46 p.m. I text, Be there in 15 minutes
unsure how many minutes
till your twilight
but the sun has already passed its meridian
when I arrive your solar noon
is behind you
You can do this too. Think of a significant date in your life, especially one that’s been hard to write about. Look up the data and see if you can find your way to a poem.
When your poem feels complete, consider submitting it to us for publication. Send poem, headshot, brief biography, and links to your social media, website, and published books (if applicable) to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to reading your poems!
Chronic Joy® Poetry Coordinator
Megan is a contributing writer for Wacoan magazine in Waco, Texas, the Fredericksburg Standard-Radio Post, and Magnolia Journal. She is also an editor at T.S. Poetry Press and the author of The Joy of Poetry. She lives in the Texas Hill Country, where she writes and edits from home. Links to her work can be found at her website, meganwillome.com and Twitter. Megan's day is incomplete without poetry and tea.
More from Megan
In this issue of Oasis of Hope, we explore heart longings, poetry, suffering and ways to care for those who are hurting. You’ll find food, free printables, heartfelt stories and gifts of joy.
Psalms as poetry - some of it is sound from the first note to the last, some have verses with a bouncy hook, and some sections should probably not be spoken aloud in polite company.
CAREGIVER - A LIFE-LIVING ROLE Today's poetry prompt is explores the life-living role of caregiving -...
Part memoir, part humorous and poignant defense of poetry, this is a book that shows you what it is to live a life with poems at your side. Megan's story is one you won't want to put down; meanwhile, her uncanny ability to reveal the why's and how's of poetry keeps calling—to even the biggest poetry doubter. If you already enjoy poetry, her story and her wisdom and her ways will invite you to go deeper, with novel ideas on how to engage with poems.
The Examen Journal is a prayer tool to empower you to reflect on your daily highs and lows as a means of exploring God's presence in your life. Meaningful questions guide your journal entries. Your conversations with God are collected in one place for you keep and pray over. The Examen Journal doesn't require a background in theology, a knowledge of scripture, or even a structured study plan. All you need is an honest heart, the desire to be with God, and a few minutes each day.