Drinking from Our Own Wells: Celebrating National Poetry Month

by Elizabeth Cunningham

April is national poetry month, but we need poetry all year long, all life long. Left to their own devices, children speak poetry. I will never forget hearing my four- year-old daughter crooning to herself.

The cat catches the mouse
the mouse catches the bird
and the night catches everything

At the end of his life, my father also spoke poetry:

When the river nears the sea
it gets confused
it doesn’t know which way to go.

Reading and writing poetry restores our sense of awe and connection; it uses words to take us to the wordless. When you write poetry, it changes the way you perceive. You are always on the alert for that shy, wild thing: a poem.

Eight years ago, after keeping journals since my teens, I decided I was tired of listening to myself maunder on in prose. I challenged myself to keep a poem journal only. In this daily practice, bad poetry is permissible and inevitable, but whatever I write about—dreams, conflict, people, nature—I seek to discover something truthful and essential. For example, volumes on domestic tension and affection are distilled here.

Parting of the long-married

He opens the car door
and begins to get in
before I protest and he
swears he would have remembered
to give me a goodbye embrace.

He insists on removing my glasses
to hold me close, and I (almost angrily)
say many useless things
about calling and staying safe.
I send a blessing as he drives away.

Later I cannot find my glasses.
It is clearly his fault.
I rewind the morning and know
I put them on the back of my car.
I find them halfway up the drive, unharmed.

Poetry can call forth a succinct narrative account, but I also relish the permission it gives for free association. Here is a poem I wrote not long after my husband’s diagnosis with prostate cancer. (He has successfully completed treatment.) The poem came from a meditation.

saints’ gold

the light shining
through your mother’s womb
the light shining
into the depths of the sea
the last light on the last oak leaves
at the end of a short November day
the honey inside the hive
the honey spooled on the spoon
the light in your lover’s eyes
when he knows
you will never

For me, as for many, poems can also be prayers, a way of connecting with mystery. Here is one from yesterday.

where you dwell

you are in every breaking heart
I don’t know how this can be
but I believe it is so

our torn hearts are your temple
they offer scant shelter
from rain or beauty

you are welcome in my heart
I am seeking you here among
weeds and fallen stone

in some shadow you are waiting
you will give me water
from my own spring

cupped in your brown hands
when I am quieted
you will speak

When I signed up for twitter last summer, I began to experiment with haiku and even attempted the occasional tanka. The really gifted poets don’t always stick to the syllabic formula, which is only an English approximation of the forms, but I became addicted to counting.


now it’s quiet again
crows have settled their dispute
wind rests in the leaves


just outside my door
the phoebes shrill excitement
topic? real estate
should we raise the babies here?
I hope they decide to build

Twitter attracts people who love words. In further celebration of poetry month, I want to introduce you to a writer I met there: R. May Evans who has just published Truth-Love-Blood-and Bones, a collection of poems available as an e-book. May is also a brilliant blogger and an artist. Here are her links:

book: http://bit.ly/b4wLMr
blog: http://www.maysmachete.com
art and writing: http://www.readheadgirl.deviantart.com

R. May Evans has a lively and wide-ranging poetic voice—funny, fierce, sexy, angry, lyrical, passionate. Her images and metaphors sometimes startle me in just the way I long to be startled, so that I see in a new way. With R. May Evan’s permission, I will close with a poem that gives me a sense of her bold, engaging spirit. I encourage you to explore her work further.


I am like a goat butting
my hard head and tiny horns against everyone
and everything I come across, if only to find out what
they’re made of. I’m made of stubbornness
and questions. My cry could be a laugh.

I hop rock to rock, restless explorer.

copyright 2009 by R. May Evans
used with permission by the author

I would like to acknowledge author and editor Cait Johnson’s brilliant editorial suggestions for this post.

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Man Named Kim April 13, 2010 - 10:45 pm

wonderfully shared. all of it. i somehow have found Ms.Evans on twitter, too.

your account of your journey in poetry encourages me. thank you for blazing the internal trail and in doing so, inviting me in.


Elizabeth Cunningham April 14, 2010 - 12:28 pm

Maeve speaking. Of course I am a poet, too, even if I was kicked out of druid school and never became a full-fledged bard. A lot of my poems have been set to music and recorded on MaevenSong. But some how Elizzabeth forgot this one, though she has sung it many times. Here it is:

The blessing of Isis go with you
queen of stars, mother of grain
she whose tears are the rain
she whose embrace is the sky
her wings of protection enfold you
her breast be your place of rest
her river with you wherever you wander
her river to guide you home.

Elizabeth forgot to tell you she has published two collections of poems, Small Bird and Wild Mercy. I hope she will publish a third–but perhaps not till she has finished Red-Robed Priestess!


Unknown April 14, 2010 - 3:00 pm

Hold hands high
for the poet
in all of us!

You certainly are one.

Tim Dillinger April 14, 2010 - 5:44 pm

Beautiful, heart-stirring and honestly riveting.

I shared a similar experience in my journalling for almost three years. I began writing in a poetic form sharing the experiences, versus an essay-ic form and found quite a new language that emerged.

This simple paragraph from your blog, to me, epitomizes the sole purpose of poetry:

Reading and writing poetry restores our sense of awe and connection; it uses words to take us to the wordless. When you write poetry, it changes the way you perceive. You are always on the alert for that shy, wild thing: a poem.

Thank you for finding the words….I learn everytime I read them.

May April 15, 2010 - 4:03 pm

What a wonderful post! I loved reading your poems, especially "saint's gold." It made me shiver, which is always a sign of a great poem for me 🙂

Thank you again for sharing my words and info!

This Ecstatic Life April 16, 2010 - 12:47 am

Soul Mate

I want to lick your insides
until they are shiny,
so that I can see my reflection
and marvel at how alike we are.

Usha April 16, 2010 - 5:28 pm

Beautiful! I can't count how many times "Parting of the long married" has played out in one way or another on my driveway!



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