The following is a guest post by Megan Armenti, Specialist, Congressional Research Service.
When I first met my husband and From the Catbird Seat blogger–Peter Armenti–I was immediately drawn in by his sincere smile, warm personality, and quintessential shy librarian nature. I soon discovered that he held a deep-seated love for poetry, one that I didn’t fully comprehend until months later. I began to realize that poetry aligned with everything I knew about him, but it did give me some personal pause. I had not read poetry since high school, and even then, only because it was required. Now, here I was dating a guy who not only read it but memorized it for FUN?! How could I carry on a conversation with someone who knew every word of Poe’s “The Raven” by heart, or scarier yet, could recite the first page of Beowulf in Old English?
Over time, he put me at ease by showing me that not all poetry was as heavy as Virgil or as confusing as John Ashbery. It turns out there are a number of poetry styles and authors that are quite good. Take, for example, Joseph Hutchison‘s “Artichoke”: “O heart weighed down by so many wings.”* So few words can say so much when put in the right order. Then I discovered Billy Collins. This former Poet Laureate single-handedly made me realize that I was wrong about poetry. From one of the first poems of his I read, “Forgetfulness,” to my current favorite, “Litany,” I stand in awe of a poet who can make me want to run out and buy a poetry book that’s not required reading.
If you had asked me in high school whether poetry would have an impact on my life, I would have easily answered no. Now what I realize is that with enough time, an open mind, and the right guide, everyone can find poetry they can enjoy. I’ve adopted a few of my husband’s favorites, like “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps,” by Galway Kinnell, and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” by Robert Frost. But I also continue to search for poems that speak just to me, like an amateur haiku I read by Robyn Krause (“Oh center-pull skein….”) or Kathi Appelt’s “Just People”–a favorite I memorized in high school.
Now I have the supreme pleasure of watching my husband pass this love of poetry on to our son. As a baby, Peter would rock him to sleep with the soft cadences of Stanley Kunitz. Now, as a toddler, one of the few things that can rivet him to stillness is watching Peter dramatically recite Ernest Lawrence Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat.” He is instantly awed by the performance and sits wide-eyed and fixated as Peter jumps around yelling “STRIKE TWO!!!”
As the power of poetry continues to take hold in our young family, I’m excited for what the next generation will find engaging. Despite what you are forced to read in high school, I invite you to take a second look at poetry. You never know where it will take hold in your life.
*The poem “Artichoke” is reproduced with the permission of Joseph Hutchison.