I work hard. Sometimes too hard. I even work hard at play. Perhaps you suffer the same affliction. Call it “passion” or “devotion” or “loving what you do,” but it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Recently I gave myself a leisurely gift—a series of online poetry-writing classes with Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer. This might sound to you like just more work in disguise, but trust me, every minute has been pure pleasure. Not one page of assigned homework between sessions. I just have to show up on Zoom and soak it in.
Rosemerry is one of the finest poets and kindest people I know. Ruby Wilson and I featured several of her poems in Poetry of Presence, our popular anthology. As a teacher, Rosemerry coaches you up without intimidating you. Whether you’re a beginning poet or an old hand, she creates a safe space for you to practice—classroom, sanctuary and playground, all rolled into one.
In our latest gathering Rosemerry discussed several poems with the class, including “I Want to Speak with the Blood that Lies Down,” an ecstatic poem by the late Jim Tipton. Here’s just a taste of it:
... I want to speak with the
thirsty rain, the lonely garbage, the tire that remembers
when it was a tree in Brazil; I want to speak with
the fragrance of sage that rises up, late into the night,
after a soft rain; I want to speak with cinnamon
and chocolate, and with windows that do not open,
and with the bag of hair in the shop of the old barber….
Do you hear how Jim drives his poem forward by constantly repeating “I want to speak with…”? The poem uses those exact words almost 20 times.
Rosemerry invited us to come up with a similar phrase: “I want to sit with,” or “I want to go to,” or “I want to dream of,” and so on. The words that rose up in my mind and demanded to be used were “I want to play like….” (Big surprise, eh?)
We had twenty minutes to write a poem that repeated and completed our chosen phrase with images. As always, before we started to compose, Rosemerry urged us to lower our expectations and just have fun. This is the poem that tumbled out of me, tweaked a bit the next day:
I Want to Play
I want to play like the bird
that plunges from sky into lake
and surfaces with beak dripping
with fish. I want to play
like ebony and ivory beneath the knobby
fingers of an old pianist,
home at last after a life in exile.
I want to play like my toddler son
once did, making friends of monsters,
tunnels of doors, secret rooms
of walls. I want to play
like the bumblebee bouncing
over my tingling skin
without ever stinging.
I want to play like Brandi Chastain
ripping off her jersey on the soccer field,
baring skin without shame
for joy. I want to play
like eyes that study the chessboard
with such care and skill
and still make the wrong move,
and laugh out loud. I want to play
like the leaves that turn their silver bellies
up to the wind, inviting rain. I want to play
like the magician whose sleight of hand
is so practiced, nobody wants to learn
how it’s done. I want to play like words
cascading down the page
in search of a soft place to land,
freefall of pleasure.
I want to play as if hard work never taught me
to forget how.
I’ve shared this poem with you not because it’s a masterful piece of poetry (it isn’t), but because I enjoyed writing it—and mostly because my son Nathan loved hearing it and thought you might, too.
Now I want to invite you to join me on the playground of poetry. Choose your own repeated phrase, then write a poem of your own. Follow Rosemerry’s advice: Lower your expectations, and just have fun. If you’d like, send me what you come up with. I’d love to read what you write.