By Susan Rogers

Poetry has always been an integral part of my life. Ever since I was quite small I would find poems bubbling up from an unknown reservoir. I attribute some of this connection to my mother, who used to recite poems to me as she wheeled me around our neighborhood in a stroller. My mother’s appreciation for the music and color of words poured into me and fused with my own way of perceiving and interacting with the world. I am forever grateful to her for this gift.

As I grew older, I became more fascinated with the power of words to create reality. I learned that the energy held within words and released by them was a wondrous force that could affect people at deep levels and change their attitudes. I also learned that not all words or combinations of words were equally powerful. I found that when words were used with precision and with an attention to their properties of music and color that they created a wave of energy that filled and fueled the heart.

I think particularly of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art:”  “—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture/ I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident/ the art of losing’s not too hard to master/ though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”

And Pablo Neruda’s “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.”

I embarked on a lifelong journey of seeking and writing those words that could be swallowed like sweet wine, words that would reverberate, waves of awareness that would remain potent for a very long time, like the memory of fine wine upon the tongue. As Hafez writes, “A poet is someone who can pour light into a cup then raise it to nourish your beautiful, parched, holy mouth.” Developing a taste for which words and which arrangements of words carry the verbal fire of choice wine is not always an easy enterprise. A line might seem delicious to us and tasteless to others.

I have found that sharing poems with others and receiving their honest reaction to them is an invaluable way of learning what works in a poem. Over the years I have shared my poetry with family members and non-poet friends, members of academic poetry workshops such as the writing seminar in the Johns Hopkins MA program, and with friends who were poets. Many times the responses I received were not very helpful. But there were other times when the feedback was constructive and very useful. I was always grateful for such responses. Of course, whether or not I would doctor a line based on a comment, adding more spice to the wine or taking an ingredient away, was ultimately up to me.

A few years ago I started writing poetry with a group of poets, Poets on Site, who write poems on exhibitions of art in galleries and museums in Southern California, such as the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena or the APC Fine Arts Gallery in Torrance. I found it very interesting to see how one painting could elicit such different poetic responses from different poets. The variety of poetic interpretation reminded me of the times I had read diverse translations of poems in English. Some of the translations were not very successful poems. But there could be a few translations of the same poem that were equally good; they were simply written in a different voice with a different sensibility.

When I joined the Westside Women Writers (WWW), I felt that I had not merely joined a community of like-minded poets, but that I had entered a diverse group that represented a wealth of different experience and a wide range of poetic styles and voices. Receiving feedback on poems in such a forum is especially helpful, as the comments are varied and represent a range of poetic tastes. The advantage of WWW is that I can bring a poem on any subject to this forum of interested, discerning poets, and receive a variety of helpful, thoughtful, and at times intriguing comments that can facilitate the process of revision.

Another advantage of WWW is the opportunity to write poems on a shared prompt. One of my favorite poems is one I wrote from the prompt given to me by this group, “Grateful Conversations We Never Had But Are Now Taking Place.” Other poets wrote poems that were free verse narratives or lyrical interpretations of the prompt. The poems were all very successful and were as varied as the writers who had created them. The critique that followed the sharing of these poems was equally varied and interesting as was the conversation about poetry we shared after reading and commenting on our poems.

I had written a modified villanelle entitled “Grateful Conversations.” It had an extra stanza in it. But after hearing the response of the group I decided to skip the extra stanza and keep the poem in the form of a proper villanelle ending with the stanza, “Watch sunset turn to a ribbon./Remember honey and its taste./ Everything we have we’re given./There is nothing we alone have written.”

The last line of this poem reminds me not only of the assistance we are given from spiritual inspiration but also the encouragement and helpful suggestions we are given from our fellow poets such as the writers of WWW. I find being a member of such a writing group to be an inspiring and affirming experience. It is always, for me, the source of grateful conversations.

Susan Rogers considers poetry a tool for the exchange of positive energy. She is also a practitioner of Sukyo Mahikari— a spiritual practice that promotes positive thoughts, words and action. Her work can be found in Poets on Site chapbooks, Chopin and Cherries, the Southern California Haiku anthology Shell Gathering, and journals such as Ribbons. It is also part of the audio tour for the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, California.

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  • stan December 23, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    I enjoyed reading this very much. I gave me waves of nostalgia to read about your mother.

  • Maxine Hope December 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Unlike beer from Miller, your cup of light is quite filling.