Advent, Poetry

“Dickinson’s punctuation is idiosyncratic.”

I remember long ago
I said I did not "get" —
Until there came a dark Advent,
the darkest,
and poetry spoke to me.
And I spoke in poetry.
Mad poetry, sad poetry,
closely rhymed and metered
poetry as a singer hears it.

Caged by forms for words
and life
I struggled with both,
but when the cage bars
fell away
I struggled harder–
wondering how to
*be* without them.

I made my own cage then,
for comfort and assurance,
rules and lines and
that had no anticipation.
But it felt safe,
if constricting,
like the belt in the car
sometimes too tight
when I look over my shoulder
to merge into traffic.

"Dickinson's punctuation is idiosyncratic,"
I read those words this morning
and I wondered why
did he feel the need to write them?
Can't we see it? Can't we feel it?
Does it require explanation?

But the cage of punctuation holds us tight
as any bars
makes sense of things
that require sense
though perhaps over-ordering
requiring only intuition
to be understood.

I want an idiosyncratic life
uncaged, unbarred–
bold and risking, nothing to lose.
I'm not that brave most days.
But others, oh, others, I use
with the wildest of them.

December 4, 2008

(The Dickinson quote comes from L. William Countryman in the book Run, Shepherds, Run: Poems for Advent and Christmas.)

13 thoughts on ““Dickinson’s punctuation is idiosyncratic.””

  1. Wow! I love it. I don’t usually get poetry. I like Hopkins, but then I just love the way the words sound; I usually don’t have a clue about what the poem “means” except for the one that begins “Margaret why are you grieving over goldengrove unleaving,”

  2. Oh, Songbird!
    Your words sing.
    They sing in all their idiosyncratic, wild beauty.
    Keep it up! Poetry is about bringing all that is disjointed and broken back into relationship. It is the work of “knitting up the world.” (I think that quote comes from Marge Piercy or a poet of her ilk.)
    (Joan, I love Hopkins too–a mystic jumble of theological rhythm and sound, in tune with the thrum in the depths of my own mind.)
    Before I read your poem, I was indulging in my own “morning snack” of poetry– the Glasgow Herald has a daily poetry blog, and it’s good nourishment for writers/mystics of every kind. They posted one of my favorites in the December 1st entry…Scottish poets tend to wrestle frequently, and fruitfully, with theology.
    Here’s the address:

  3. OH, SB!! This gave me chills. LOVE it. Thank you for sharing it.
    (I am a huge Dickinson fan – and a big fan of dashes as well – and actually, I pretty much love ellipses, too….)

  4. This made me think about limits and freedom and self-expression and permission.
    Thank you.

  5. beautiful – i too discovered poetry from a dark place – when other words didn’t get through as well – will find that book for Advent

Comments are closed.