When I initially came across Margarita Engel’s article, “The Care and Feeding of Poetry”, I was moved by her view on how to engage young people in poetry. When I read Suzi F. Garcia’s essay, “Learning”, in which she talks about her struggle with reading and her challenges with classic pieces of poetry, I felt a sense of kinship with her story. Then, when I finished Melody Moezzi’s The Rumi Prescription, I was moved by her journey and the connections she made while translating poetry with her father.
While each piece offered its own angle on the challenges and benefits of reading and writing poetry, they also offer insight into the ways we can learn and grow with poetry.
“The Care and Feeding of Poetry” by Margarita Engel
Margarita Engel is a poet, novelist, and journalist who published the essay, “The Care and Feeding of Poetry” in the May 2021 issue of Poetry Magazine. In this essay, she explores the way we teach young people about poetry. Engel starts by explaining that reading poetry is interactive.
“The open spaces between lines and stanzas are filled with echoes like the resonance after ringing a bell. Those spaces hold the poet’s emotions, as well as the reader’s.”
Engel further states, “When a teacher asks students what a poem means, the joy of hearing music might be lost, and fears of failing to interpret “correctly” can be triggered. Instead of “What does this poem mean?” I suggest asking, “How does the poem make you feel?” ‘
These ideas set the stage for Engel’s thoughtful and caring call to action for those that teach children. Engel, after reflecting on the setbacks she encountered as a student, suggests that educators should offer children the three Ps of a “peaceful surroundings, a pencil (or pen), and paper”. Engel explains that if we give children the time and space to create (otherwise known as the three Ps) they will be creative. She then concludes this essay by saying “Children and poetry were born to love each other. All we need to do is offer room to grow, so that words can flow freely, like wild creatures returning to their natural habitat.”
This is a wonderful brief essay that I would highly suggest reading if you have the time. You can find the full essay here.
“Learning” By Suzi F. Garcia
“Learning” is a short essay by Suzi F. Garcia. Garcia is September’s guest editor for Poetry Magazine. She is a published poet and author of A Home Grown Fairytale. Garcia is also the online editor for the Michigan Quarterly Review and an executive editor at Noemi Press.
In this piece, Garcia talks about her struggles learning to read and write and how poetry often felt beyond her grasp. One thing that I truly enjoyed about this essay was her reflection on trying to grasp the work of Wordsworth.
“No matter what angle I took, how many times I tried, I couldn’t see a connection between what he did and what I knew of language. He was using words I thought I understood but not in ways I understood. I had never felt so lost in my life, and I didn’t open another book of poetry for almost a decade after that.”
Can I tell you, I get this! As someone who is deeply interested in reading and writing about the natural world, I feel like I should become more familiar with authors like Wordsworth and Emerson. But as much as I try, sometimes I just can’t stay focused on the work. It was so good to hear an accomplished editor shared the same challenges.
Garcia ends this essay with this statement:
“Every time I open a poem or manuscript, it teaches me how to understand its language, connecting me to the speaker through idioms, metaphors, images, tones, and more. Poetry has been teaching me since I was a child, when I didn’t even know it was there. I’m learning to read the language I grew up with, I’m learning from writers I have worked under and those I’ve never met.”
I appreciate how Garcia reminds us that reading and writing poetry is a journey. And it can be a journey that can continue into adulthood. You can read the full article here.
The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life By Melody Moezzi
The Rumi Prescription was a random find for me. I was looking for a new audiobook and The Rumi Prescription came up as a suggestion. I was not that familiar with Rumi, but after reading a little bit about this book and seeing that it explores the intersection of poetry and the human experience, I decided to take a chance
The publisher describes this book by stating:
“Addressing isolation, distraction, depression, fear, and other everyday challenges we face, the book offers a roadmap for living with intention and ease, and embracing love at every turn–despite our deeply divided and chaotic times. Most of all, it presents a vivid reminder that we already have the answers we seek, if we can just slow down to honor them.”
I am not sure this description does the book justice. I would add to this description by saying that this book follows one person’s journey for understanding, belonging, and connection through an investigation of the poetry of a 13th century poet.
The backbone of the story is Moezzi’s experiences trying to translate Rumi’s poetry with the assistance of her father. But as we go through the book we learn about Moezzi’s life as an Iranian American, her struggles with her mental health, her role as an activist, her experiences as a Muslim American, her interactions with her husband, and most of all her growing appreciation of poetry.
Each chapter starts with some sort of diagnosis. For example, chapter four is “Depression”. After identifying the diagnosis, we are then introduced to a Rumi poem. The poem that goes along with “Depression” is “Welcome Every Guest”.
Welcome every guest
No matter how grotesque
Be as hospitable to calamity as to ecstasy
To anxiety as to tranquility
Today’s misery sweeps your home clean
Making way for tomorrow’s felicity
After this brief Rumi reference, we then follow Moezzi through her life experiences as they relate to the identified diagnosis. The narrative is peppered with her interactions with her father, and through these interactions we experience Moezzi’s growing appreciation of Rumi along with her insight into the power of this ancient poetry.
Moezzi wraps up this book with a final chapter on “Pride”. In this chapter she shares some some apt words of wisdom.
Seek the tonic nectar in the bitter sting
Go to the source of the source of your spring
Why seek pilgrimage at some distant shore
When the beloved is right next door
These final couplets provide the perfect ending for her multiple year, global adventure, into the work of Rumi. Sometimes we travel far and wide for knowledge and wisdom. But perhaps, if we slow down, the solace we seek may be closer that we think.
If you get a chance to read this book I would highly suggest it. Here is a link to find out more.
- “The Care and Feeding of Poetry” by Margarita Engel
- “Learning” By Suzi F. Garcia
- The Rumi Prescription: How an Ancient Mystic Poet Changed My Modern Manic Life By Melody Moezzi
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Good Morning, Mark! Thanks for the great post as always. I was particularly interested in Rumi, as my husband is from Iran. Just a suggestion that the photo of the meditating dog might not be the best photo after a post honouring a Muslim poet, lol. We are Baha’is, so we don’t mind, but Miss Moezzi might. Only a suggestion.
Hi Adele, Such a good point. Maybe I should move it. The dog sits on my desk so it was more about my reading area. But I can see how it could be misinterpreted. Thanks for the different perspective.
My pleasure. I was really hoping you wouldn’t be offended.
No problem! I really appreciate the feedback.
I moved it to the top of the post and added a caption to explain the picture. Thanks again for your suggestion!
Amen to asking children “how does the poem make you feel?”
Right!! Such a simple change that can make a world of difference.
Like you, there are some things that I read and never quite grasp what is being said! However, the words are heard and at some later date, an explanation or a feeling comes to mind which can only have come from that initial reading! (I hope that makes sense). I know that keeping notes certainly helps me too!
Hi Ashley,. Thanks for this comment. I agree that sometimes, after time has passed, the words that once were so confusing suddenly make sense. Such great insight. Thank you!