Oh my, that was interesting.
I remember Sappho of Lesbos, her followers, friends and students. So full of passion and desire. Attacked for her sexuality, such stories about her: Ovid even claimed she leapt from a rock to her death after being refused the love of a man.
She was passionate enough, but I can assure you, if she were to do that? It would probably not be a man’s love she would die for want of.
Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the topmost bough,
Atop on the topmost twig, — which the pluckers forgot, somehow, —
Forget it not, nay; but got it not, for none could get till now.
Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the hills is found,
Which the passing feet of the shepherds forever tear and wound,
Until the purple blossom is trodden in the ground.
I mean, you tell me. Was that written by a straight woman?
Funny how with all the other writers for over two thousand years denying her sexuality and erotic power, this modern world still ended up with the word “lesbian”, and good on you all for it. I suppose these days she’d be called pansexual. I really like all the new words you have; suddenly there are names for the colours in the rainbow.
I digress. Perhaps I’ll tell you more about Sappho another time.
Poetry is experience, feelings, emotions, all made manifest in words. The Classical Greeks believed that words were magical. That words shape reality. Sappho did not write for the ages, she wrote for those who sat beside her and listened to her. She wrote to cast her spell on them, to enchant them, to make them feel, to experience.
That is poetry. It is the spell that words weave, the heart that skips, the stomach clenching, the ache behind your eyes as you feel the loss, the pain, the gasp, the relief of triumph.
Form is a vehicle. I adore form. Shakespeare? Goodness. Entire plays of poetry. Classical sonnets. Iambic pentameter. Such a clever fellow, and he did like my visits. But it’s not the form that makes the poem. It’s not the point.
If it makes you feel, you are a poet. The trick is to make it fit into a form. The form’s not the point, it’s the challenge.
So I told my class all of this, and I got them to write a haiku to make their reader feel what they felt.
Oh! I haven’t told you about my students! It’s what they call a “mature age” class, whatever that means. Everyone is in their mid-20s and up. I had about a dozen students at the first evening class. I’ll tell you about a few.
Cara wore a red dress, asymmetrical, boots. Dark hair in a hard cut over dark eyes, olive skin. She walks with her chest out, daring the world to get in her way. I like her. She’s angry for a lot of the right reasons. She’s got a lot to say. She’s smarter than she thinks she is.
Fuck you, I decide.
Who, what, when, where, why and how.
I didn’t choose you.
I hope she keeps writing.
Darren is in his 60s. He arrived with Karen, his wife, who is around the same age. They said they were always looking for things to do together and the book club had suggested the course. They’re retired. Darren used to be a builder; he started reading when he retired. He has large hands with rough-tipped fingers. Karen became a big reader after the children had left home. Both of them were quiet, but thought hard about their poems.
I built around you;
With each brick I hold you up;
You’re my reason why.
So long hand in hand,
Beyond the hard life, softness;
Where will we go next?
I have to be honest here. I think Karen might like Sappho’s poetry a bit more than Darren does, if you know what I mean. But they seem to care about each other – I’m sure they’ll figure it out.
Eddie is in his 20s. He was sent here as part of some sort of program. Not really sure what that means, but he’s an interesting fellow. He’s angry too, but it’s harder to tell why. He gave me a form to sign to say he’d attended. Then he stared out the window. I honestly thought he wasn’t paying attention at all, but he wrote one. I have to remember to ask the director what a parole officer is.
Nobody told me
That you were not like a man.
I hate being you.
Jaime is thin and has a shy smile that comes and goes like a flash. Sudden amusement tugging at lips and then it’s gone. Long black coat and soft spoken, worn boots. I have no idea how old Jaime is. Maybe thirties?
It’s hardly secret,
Of all things: Joy, desire, love:
Sunshine on my face.
So there! Five of my favourite students so far. I could write so much more about them, but I’ll leave that till later.
The college director has asked me to stop by her office to discuss some class content before I head home. She said she wanted to explore every inch of my curriculum, so I guess I’d better be prepared!