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 on the first Sunday of 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.
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 keyword, 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 indicate 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. 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 about 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.
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