I first met Eric Ode (pronounced ‘Odee’) in poetic circles on Facebook, and very soon fell for his warm, droll and upbeat personality. Eric is not only an educator and well-published poet performer, he writes his own songs and performs with his guitar. I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Eric this May, where I had a chance to get to know him and his lovely wife Kim when we got together with a group of children’s poets and did a performance. It was hilarious and at some point I will post one of Eric’s songs from that recording. Here is a link to one of Eric’s lovely books, Sea Star Wishes, and his website. Below, Eric expounds on ¿Que Es La Palabra?
¿Que Es La Palabra? (Or “Why Writing Poetry is Like Spending Three Weeks Learning Spanish in Guatemala)
Okay, that was hard. I’ve just wrapped up my first full week of Spanish classes at a cooperative school here in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala. My first visit to this wonderful country. Five days a week of one-on-one instruction, five hours each day. I’m still too overwhelmed to create poetry here. Frustrating. I’m surrounded by amazing sights and sounds and people that should inspire BRILLIANT poetry! But maybe I can concentrate enough to create a short list – some commonalities between learning a new language and writing poetry. So here we go!
FINDING THE RIGHT WORDS CAN BE… DIFFICULT? CHALLENGING? ARDUOUS?
Of course with a new language, we can fumble around with vocabulary we do know, and, with the help of our pocket dictionary and some frantic hand motions, we’ll get by. But with poetry, there’s no alternative to knowing precisely the right words. It is poetry, after all!
BELIEVE THERE’S A DESTINATION
People ask me why I’m studying Spanish. Truthfully I don’t know. I have no end goal. But I do believe that when we open ourselves to opportunities, opportunities reveal themselves – opportunities we could not have foreseen. So in the end, these studies will lead to something wonderful. I’m sure of it! Likewise with poetry, we might approach the blank page with little idea of what will come of our efforts. But, poco a poco, the poem will reveal itself, again often arriving as nothing we could have imagined.
TAKE TWO STEPS FORWARD…
It’s never just forward momentum. Language learning? We can expect that, by the next morning, we’ll have forgotten much of what we were so certain we’d learned. And with poetry? We’re frequently tearing apart what we had already so carefully built. Of course the beautiful thing with poetry is that we’ll be rebuilding into something even better – something closer to the ideal poems we have in our dreams. Which leads us to…
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
It’s Guatemalan Independence Day today. I was trying to tell my host mother how much I enjoyed “la parada” this morning. Wait. Parada is “stop,” NOT “parade.” Sigh. But I digress! The parade? I had no idea. I was enjoying a coffee in a small café when the school marching bands began their enthusiastic procession down the narrow cobblestone street. I stood in the doorway with the café’s waitress, and we watched and listened and talked about the schools and the children. Absolutely a treat! Writing poetry is often like that. We’re scribbling away, when suddenly wonderful, unexpected metaphors and images parade right in front of us.