Poetry Wednesday – April 14, 2010

14 Apr

I owe very much of my love of poetry to two people: my father and my high school poetry teacher, Mr. Terry Savoie.

My father hated poetry.  It made no sense, was flowery, and had nothing to do with his life.  He wasn’t a reader of classic literature, or even fiction in general.  Give the man some non-fiction – preferably about murder, politics, or terrors of war – and he was in heaven.  When he died, however, I needed an outlet.  I needed something that would give me a voice and something that would commiserate with me.  Enter Mr. Savoie.

My senior year of high school, months after my father’s death, I took  a poetry course with Mr. Savoie.  I needed an easy class to fill an elective and something that wouldn’t take too much thought with all that my mind was processing.  Poetry it was!  Mr. Savoie walked in the first day of class and said “If you want an easy ‘A’ get out!”  I almost went, I really did, but I stuck around.  Thank goodness!  We spent our periods reading poetry silently, to each other, to Mr. Savoie, out-loud to ourselves.  Slowly but surely I learned what I liked, what I loved, and what I despised.  Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon helped me through my grief and melancholy.  I detested Amiri Baraka’s  blasphemy and racial polarization.  I learned to respect  and find solace in the sentiments of Mark Doty (a homosexual) while not accepting his lifestyle as godly (are many poets’ lifestyles godly, anyway?).

Then we started writing our own.  Mr. Savoie taught me how not to “bleed all over everyone” while still convincing my audience’s heart to break for me, and he taught me how to walk away from my writing when the subject matter was  a bit too close to my heart at that moment.  He taught me to fiddle with sounds and words and the delight of them both.  I respected his writing and he respected my writing even if he didn’t like it.  “I hate it!  I hate it!  It’s so good, though!”  He encouraged me to submit my work. “If you don’t go somewhere with that line, I will take it and use it!”

Honestly, his words and his knowledge helped me wade through my grief, my anger, and my exhaustion.  I always, always think of him as I read a poem.  So, in honor of Mr. Terry Savoie, here is one of his published poems.  I don’t know where he is these days or what he is doing, but I’m 100% sure he is writing.

This is a poem that is so good…but I don’t like it.

.

.

Prayer to Simone Weil

by Terry Savoie

“…even saints have to eat to get strength.”
Judas in The Last Temptation of Christ

Death stinks, no matter how much it’s made up.
Mademoiselle, for whom are you waiting,

dressed to kill like that in those discarded,
dead-man’s boots & boxy, camouflage fatigues?

The whitecapped combers clap frantically up
against several incoming freighters, & the harbor’s

thick with the outlandish, foreign tongues of refugees
fleeing that Nazi soullessness pouring in around them

from the north.  And yet, there you are, huddled like a wet
cat on the quay in Marseilles in the spring of ’41, absolutely

(perfectly?) motionless.  Could it be that this century’s
sins have got you down, or are you simply beginning

to construct a scaffolding of ideas to prop up against
that facade, your death, you’re building?  Go, climb

to the top & you will find nothing more there than a steady
drizzle as though you were suddenly awash in the middle

of a bowl of cold fish soup.  How you struggle to keep afloat
with all the seriousness of a wide-eyed flounder, unsynogogued,

as your prayers reach out toward heaven extolling Beauty
that is this world’s but refuses to be totally consumed.

Tell me, is it simply a sneer that separates
the saint from the suicide?  All that’s left to eat

are our words.  In the end each of us dies too soon,
Simone, & one’s death never seems quite enough.

.

.

Please go and read more and submit your own poem at Enanoslivo.

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6 Responses to “Poetry Wednesday – April 14, 2010”

  1. Kris April 14, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    I have to admit – I didn’t like the poem either. But I really, really liked your introduction. Your teacher seems like just the right mix of caring, hard nose and task master.

    My highschool experience made me dislike poetry intensely. Poetry was too much work, too fussy and too obtuse. But my then boyfriend and now husband changed my mind. Just had to find the right kind of poetry, I suppose.

    Noticed on the side bar that you are reading Eat, Pray, Love. I’d be interested in what you think of it. Just started her second book, Committed.

  2. Molly Sabourin April 14, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    Jennifer,

    What an incredibly compelling post. I can’t imagine the intensity of your sadness – losing your father so young. I was fascinated and very moved by your account of the pivotal role poetry played in helping you “wade through your grief, anger and exhaustion.” I am fascinated by Mr. Savoie, and by the writing advice he offered you (“Mr. Savoie taught me how not to ‘bleed all over everyone’ while still convincing my audience’s heart to break for me”). It certainly seems providential that your paths crossed when they did.

    Jennifer, I really appreciate you sharing these memories. Viewing the power of poetry through your eyes has affected me deeply.

  3. Jenny Schroedel April 15, 2010 at 1:20 am #

    Jennifer,

    I totally agree with Molly. I was so drawn in by your story of how you learned to love poetry through your dad (who had no use for it himself) and by Mr. Savoie, who would say things like, “I hate it. I hate it. But it is so good.” I loved his advice, too. It seems like it could be applied to any writer struggling to find their voice.

  4. Terry Savoie April 15, 2010 at 11:23 am #

    Gosh, that was touching! I’m on facebook or at my email address. Contact me if you like. Once again, I’m very touched by your kind words. Terry Savoie

  5. jw April 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    I also was drawn in by this post. It made me want to be a student again– which doesn’t happen often.

  6. beth johnson April 16, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    What a wonderful class you were able to be a part of. I remember the first time I realized my love for literature and poetry while sitting in a high school English class.

    There is something unique about this poem. I like the way it flows. I like the parentheses and using symbols throughout. And my husband and I (dare I say it) really do love The Last Temptation of Christ and I do find beauty in this poem’s imagery. It is powerful. Thanks for your post.

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