Saturday, November 19, 2011

Poetry - really?

As a straight ally and the pastor of an Open and Affirming congregation I was invited to participate in the 13th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance in Riverside, California. Of course I said yes, and foolishly told the organizer, "I'll do whatever you want me to in the program." Today I got an email which said, "Attached are three poems for you to read in the program."

Poetry - Really? When I read that email to my husband he started chuckling. He knows the struggles I have had with Poetry.

I didn't always have trouble with poetry. Apparently I liked poems, even wrote some when I was very young. My mother was fond of showing family members a love poem I wrote about a classmate in 2nd grade. That was embarrassing, but it's not the reason I had trouble with poetry. That started in 4th grade.

The 4th grade teacher, Mrs. McClintock, was known for the wonderful poetry recitations her class presented every year at the annual spring program. Every month all through the school year she would assign long, boring poems by dead white guys to be memorized and recited in front of the class. I hated it. I could memorize alright but the standing up in front of the class to recite was horrible. I was always terrified. I developed a real dislike for poetry. As much as I loved reading, if I saw anything even shaped like a poem in whatever I was reading, I would skip over it. It might be song lyrics that gave the clue that would solve the mystery or help the hero save the day, but I wouldn't care. I wouldn't read poetry. I wouldn't even read the psalms because they are obviously poetry.

This state of affairs lasted about 35 years. When I finally got to college in my 40s I had an English professor who insisted that we read poetry. She didn't care how much I hated it, I was going to read it. Then she assigned poets like Maya Angelou and a Vietnam vet and some Native American writers. I had no idea there were people like these writing poetry. Not a dead white guy in the bunch! No poems about chestnut trees or owls and pussycats or the village smithy. No iambic pentameter. And I liked it. I started reading poetry voluntarily.

Mind you, I still don't read much poetry. But I do read it when I run across it in a book or magazine. I've even purchased a couple of books of poetry. I now enjoy the psalms and proverbs and Song of Solomon. Life opened up whole new vistas of understanding when I lost my hatred of poetry.

So on Sunday I will be reading three powerful, pain-filled poems written from the perspective of a transgendered woman. While reading I will be giving thanks for Dixie Durham at Chapman University and her insistence that I would find good things about poetry if I would just open my mind and give it a chance. And I will be praying for open-mindedness to come to all people, everywhere.