The Library’s Director of Educational Outreach, Lee Ann Potter, recently posted to one of our sibling blogs, From the Catbird Seat: Poetry and Literature at the Library of Congress, reflecting on the power of poetry.
The following is a guest post written by Lee Ann Potter, the director of Educational Outreach at the Library of Congress.
Fourteen years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, I began keeping a journal. It is not a daily activity for me, but I do write something nearly once a month. Mostly, I write about what is new with my son and daughter–their likes and dislikes, their favorite foods and activities, their reactions to new situations, and the silly or profound things that they say. For these entries, my writing is mostly a narrative—illustrated at times with traced outlines of their hands or feet.
But when my children’s actions drive me a little crazy, I turn to poetry. This is in no way deliberate; it just sort of happens. My poems are very informal. They do not follow a particular format, and they rarely rhyme. But writing poetry—writing a stream of words, with letters of various sizes, with exclamation points and question marks—allows me to capture my emotions better than neatly composed prose does. And in most cases, when I reach the end of my poem I am calmer than when I began. Writing poetry is almost therapeutic, and my final lines tend to be much more sensible than the first ones.
When it comes to reading poetry, my preferences fall into two categories: If I am reading out loud (especially to my children), or I am listening to someone else read, I want poetry to make me laugh. Shel Silverstein’s works are great for this! If, however, I am reading to myself, I enjoy poems about nature, ones that capture some sense of timelessness, and ones that offer good advice. I first read The Chambered Nautilus by Oliver Wendell Holmes and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” in high school, and both continue to speak to me. In fact, I have both poems committed to memory and enjoy hearing the lines in my head.
Right now I am working on memorizing a new poem. Some background: my husband, children, and I have an unwritten list of things we want to try, places we want to go, and experiences we want to have “someday.” When we are in the midst of trying a new thing, visiting a new place, or having a new experience that was on our special list, we are deliberate to tell each other, “Hey, today is someday.” So when I stumbled upon Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Holidays” a few months ago, I was a bit startled. Here is the poem in its entirety:
The holiest of all holidays are those
Kept by ourselves in silence and apart;
The secret anniversaries of the heart,
When the full river of feeling overflows;—
The happy days unclouded to their close;
The sudden joys that out of darkness start
As flames from ashes; swift desires that dart
Like swallows singing down each wind that blows!
White as the gleam of a receding sail,
White as a cloud that floats and fades in air,
White as the whitest lily on a stream,
These tender memories are; —a fairy tale
Of some enchanted land we know not where,
But lovely as a landscape in a dream.
I think my family’s somedays are exactly what
Longworth Longfellow means when he writes of “the secret anniversaries of the heart.” Not only is this is now my favorite line from a poem, but it makes me want to read more of Longfellow’s works. Finding them should not be difficult—a quick search of “Longfellow” in the Library’s Online Catalog tells me there at 1,457 options!