I return to John Fox and his book, Poetic Medicine: The Healing Art of Poem-Making. As I work this book, I continue to find much that needs reviewing in my life. The reward for doing the work is usually a poem I either need to write or that I actually like having written. One does not necessarily follow the other.
Fox’s chapter “Landscapes of Relationship” is taking me a spectacularly long time to get through. I underline. I read the sample poems repeatedly. I reflect on whether his words speak true to my life. Although I am married, I believe Fox intends this chapter to apply to a large field of relationships.
What I found interesting is that Fox doesn’t begin the chapter with all the complaints you might have in any given relationship. You don’t just sit down and write a rant and get it all out of your system. No, he actually asks you to do something more complex, even difficult, depending on where you are in your relationship.
Fox asks you to write a praise poem for your beloved; a love poem. If you’ve been married awhile and what he calls “everyday residue” is making love murky, perhaps you’ve forgotten what’s in your significant other that attracted you in the first place. For those of us who’ve been together awhile, we’ve grown and changed since that first long kiss. What is there in the immediate present that you love and admire about him or her? Fox asks you to write this whether you are in the midst of a fight, living through grief, or concealing what most needs to be said. Write the poem. Praise your lover. That’s the work.
One of his examples is a poem by Judy Grahn (one of the truly under-valued poets of our time). I want you to have it in front of you. Because of this, my post may seem long but try to stay with me here.
Paris and Helen
He called her: golden dawn
She called him: the wind whistles
He called her: heart of the sky
She called him: message bringer
He called her: mother of pearl,
barley woman, rice provider,
miller basket, corn maid,
flax princess, all-maker, weef
She called him: fawn, roebuck,
stag, courage, thunderman,
all-in-green, mountain strider,
keeper of forests, my-love-rides
He called her: the tree is
She called him: bird dancing
He called her: who stands,
has stood, will always stand
She called him: arriver
He called her: the heart and the womb
She called him: arrow in my heart
As many poets do, especially if they admire a particular poet (it’s great practice), I copied Judy’s style, trying to capture in my words the beautiful naming that sounds Native American in nature. Reading this, I feel as if I’ve been granted an intimate glimpse into the lives of these two lovers.
As I began to write, I immediately fell across a stumbling block. She was writing this in third person about other people. If I wanted to make it a personal love poem, I needed to write it in first person. What this meant was, I had to write as if I knew what my beloved would call me. And that meant I had to praise myself as well. As usual, I had set a harder task than was asked of me. If one must love themselves to truly love another, then I was setting out to prove that with a poem.
Despite how daunting the exercise seemed, below you can read my effort to complete this self-imposed challenge. Afterwards, I asked Leigh if the names rang true to her. She agreed, although she seemed surprised by a few. She was quite sweet on me the rest of the day. Such is the power of poetry. And love “that stands, has stood, will always stand.”
How We Call Each Other
I call her: queen of bees
She calls me: poem maker
I call her: feet planted in earth
She calls me: lightning strikes
I call her: bringer of honey,
strong body, another new supper,
healer, inventor, evergreen
She calls me: stands-the-watch,
broken heart, innocence,
fire fighter, laughs out loud,
bird lover, blue
I call her: tall grass bends
She calls me: swims with waves
I call her: has many lives,
has many gifts, has hidden her sorrow
She calls me: always the same
I call her: this is home
She calls me: I belong here