So, as Poetry Friday celebrates its two year anniversary (more or less), I realized that I wanted to branch out a little. I’m going to continue reflections on poems from the year of the novel I’m reading. But I also want to spotlight the poetry I spend much of my time reading—that is, the poetry of my friends. I sent an invitation to a few poet-friends of mine, soliciting some material they’d like to have featured here. Since one of my blog’s aims is to start a conversation about literature, I’m hoping this helps further that aim—these are, after all, the works of living, breathing poets. They may have sent them to get feedback as they consider a revision. Even if that’s not in the cards, there’s at least the possibility of conversation about them. Just as with my reviews of books written by friends, I have no qualms about being critical where I need to be, and the folks submitting poems know that. I’ll be picking poems that resonate with me for some reason or other, and I hope people will react to them as they feel motivated to (don’t be shy about criticism, in other words: though of course don’t be needlessly rude, either).
Today’s poet, then, is my former mentor in the poetic arts—Katherine Grace Bond, who (in addition to her work as a professional writer with some noteworthy publications to her credit) has long worked with classes and informally-organized groups of young writers in an attempt to help them hone their craft. Katherine helped push me to write some of my best work, and without Katherine I literally would never have met a cute girl that I ended up marrying. So it’s needless to say I think a lot of Katherine, and I’m pleased she’s willing to let me have a crack at some of her work. Today’s poem is entitled “Light”:
Once I caught light
and kept it in a box
beneath my bed.
Before long it wanted out,
so I taped the box shut.
Light was my secret.
But it made such
a great roar
that the darkness
I chose a very brief poem, in part, because my recent tendency has been to dive into longer pieces that have a lot going on—almost too much for me to be able to talk about everything I’d like to. One of the things I like about “Light” is that it presents itself so simply…no elaborate or mystifyingly obscure title, no words prodding you to seek a dictionary for clarification. There’s an openness about the poem that invites readers to identify with it. For me, the message of the poem is an interesting one, because at first glance it seemed “easy”. As I handled the words in my mind, though, I became less and less sure. Capturing and hiding the light seemed, at first, to be negative—even if we don’t think about the Sermon on the Mount right away (though some will), it’s the kind of setup that seems to be begging for trouble later. But I’m not sure the poem wants to say that. Is it bad that the light is a secret? Is its shaking of the darkness a bad consequence—the secret escaping in unintended and unwelcome ways—or a good consequence—light overcoming darkness, strangely, not visibly but aurally and physically with sound and shaking? Is the message of the poem that those precious things we hide in ourselves are good for us, holding back the things we fear around us by being present inside, or rather that we hide the beautiful and the worthy things to our own peril, because if locked inside us long enough, they will break?
And to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how this internal conversation reflects on my opinion of the poem. In part, I wonder if Katherine’s poem isn’t succeeding because it’s not really reaching me—whatever she hoped to say is getting blurred for me, maybe by some imprecision, or by the poem’s brevity (which may not allow enough room to deliver the heart of what she means to say). But in part, I wonder if Katherine’s poem is succeeding—that she is taking advantage of the ambiguity in some very simple, declarative sentences to allow me to move the poem in the direction I’d like to go. Light and darkness are usually pretty straightforward symbols in literary settings, but the actions of the narrator in connection with them make them complicated: is that the point?
I should note that, while I do hope Katherine will comment, I’m not looking for the cavalry to ride in and “tell me what the poem means”. I’m curious, though, how the poem affects other people. And I’m pleased to have a poem this simple because we can’t trip over too much in it—we can “get down to brass tacks”, as they say, pretty rapidly and compare directly how we read the various elements in the poem. Part of me wants to leap out into all the connections my brain makes with light: why light matters, how light interacts with people, etc. But that’s me rushing past a poem without really hearing it. I’m going to linger here in uncertainty a bit, and I’m hoping some folks will comment. If I get anywhere, I’ll add additional thoughts down in the comments.
In the meantime, look for another post (and probably a review) of Years of Grace in the days ahead—I’m trying to finish rapidly. And if you like Katherine’s stuff, or are just curious to see more, check out Katherine’s WordPress blog: I’m sure she’ll be glad you stopped by. Have a great weekend!