New Poem of the Week: Underlying Truths About Poetry and Who We Are


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The truth of a poem is actually much deeper
than whether or not something really happened.
What matters is an undergirding truth that I think is the power of poetry
and I think that, when I veer from that even by a syllable,
it’s my job to know if I’ve veered from that.”
~Dr. Elizabeth Alexander

Listening to On Being with Krista Tippet is a regular part of my week although it airs on Sunday, I do not always listen on Sunday but stream it when I have a chance. Last night while cutting vegetables for our salad I was listening to Krista’s interview with Dr. Elizabeth Alexander, who is a poet and professor at Yale University who recently wrote and delivered “Praise Song for the Day” at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration.

As a poet this interview was very interesting, however it’s impact went beyond interesting as it seemed to speak directly to a poem I had crafted this year. When Elizabeth Alexander said that poetry is “not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.” it immediately reminded me of my poem,Sometimes, dogs

This poem, “Sometimes, dogs” is a poem that gave me pause to reflect as it is the only poem I have written in which the “plot” and movement of events is not accurately drawn from a single experience in my life, rather it is a hybrid of experiences woven together into an anecdotal narrative-styled poem. It is a poem of experience; a poem, which I hope, allows us to…think about who we are.” 

A bit later in the interview she elaborates, saying “You know, when I say ‘poetry is not all love, love, love,’ I mean romantic love is where we go first with the word. But really there is so much more to the word. The word is sober. The word is grave. The word is not just about something light and happy and pleasurable. The word calls up deep, deep responsibilities.”

She talks about how poetry has always been about community, that at it’s roots it is part of the societal discussion. She implies that this is the impetus of poetry, or at least a part of it’s functioning, when she says that it’s essence is “I gotta tell you my story. I gotta tell you what happened. Let’s think about who we are.”

Even though I understand the context of what Dr. Alexander was speaking to, I also received a different message, a message that helped me to understand my own poem. “Sometimes, dogs” is a poem about being sorry that the dog died, and so much more which falls into the category of both about love and about the dog dying and about sober, grave issues which I believe are calling us to brave, deep responsibilities to talk about who we are.

sometimes, dogs

If you have had a dog,
then you know their pure love,
and most, their frailty

sometimes, dogs outlive their offspring
yet their lifespan is still shorter than their owners’
especially the children they’ve grown up playing with

you have tasted the sweetness your own life
in their tail wagging from ear to ear
as much you have tasted your own mortality
in the foreshadow of their passing

[Read More]

~David Anthony Martin
Copyright 2013

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You can stream the pod cast or read the transcript from the interview with Dr. Alexander at On Being.

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This poem is part of my current notebook. I have a manuscript, Deepening the Map being considered for publication, another manuscript, Owl Light nearly ready to submit and well on my way with this next notebook toward another manuscript in the works.

If you like this poem, consider reading a few of my new poems on my blog and checking out my book Span (Rhizome Publishing 2011, 2012) which will soon be out of print, but currently can still be purchased as an eBook and read on most devices or as a beautiful paperback to be held in your hands and taken with you on your day.  The cover art by Mathias Valdez of Last Leaf Printing takes the book as object” concept to a lovely level.  Span also makes a great, inexpensive gift for the book or nature lover on your list.

If you are unable to find a distributor with available copies, I do have a few copies left at home, contact me to purchase them via my blogsite and PayPal.

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