Summer is a good time to think about love. Who doesn’t love sunshine, long days, and warm nights spent strolling through city streets, or sitting out on a balcony or deck, just enjoying the weather? And summer is the perfect time to discover a new romance, even if that romance is with a really good book you’ve been itching to read.
I’ve been thinking about love as I’ve been re-reading Natalie Goldberg’s seminal book, Writing Down the Bones. In the section entitled, “Writing is a Communal Act”, Goldberg asserts “Writers are great lovers”. Of course, this sentence is intentionally deceptive. Goldberg claims that writers are lovers because we “fall in love with other writers”. And that is true. Writers are readers, and as readers, we fall in love with the books we read. And, as Goldberg makes clear, falling in love with a particular book is important because it teaches us about the art of writing itself.
So I began to wonder: whose work am I in love with? I compiled a list of poets that I adore: Pablo Neruda, Leonard Cohen, Marge Piercy, Alden Nowlan, and Raymond Souster, to name a few. I love the energy and grit of the words, textures, and subjects of Neruda and Piercy’s poetry. I love that both poets are not afraid to deal with messy subjects in their writing. I love the images and control in the work of Souster, the wild imagination of Nowlan, and the uncluttered yet powerful rhymes of Cohen.
Reading the work of these poets is like having a conversation with a good friend, a mentor, or with someone who has piqued a new desire in you that you are only just waking up to. As Goldberg states, “writing is not just writing. It is also having a relationship with other writers”. And, as I discovered not too long ago, our relationships with the writers we adore can be long and enduring.
For instance, I first fell in love with Raymond Souster’s poetry in high school. About two years ago, I began writing a poem about aging. I realized I had Souster’s words in the back of my mind, so I went and dug out his work. Sure enough, there was Souster’s six-line poem, “The Six-Quart Basket”, that had been occupying space in my subconscious:
The six-quart basket
one side gone
half the handle torn off
sits in the centre of the lawn
and slowly fills up
with the white fruits of the snow.
(reprinted in: 15 Canadian Poets x2, ed. Gary Geddes, 1990)
Somehow, after a span of at least twenty-five years, these words stayed with me. The simplicity of the language, combined with the potency of the image had endured. Using Souster’s poem as a starting point, I reworked my own poem into one that referred back to the original. My poem, “Drift, after Souster’s ‘The Six-Quart Basket’“, ended up being published in The Banister. (You can read the poem here: https://brooklinpoetrysociety.com/poetry-by-renee-m-sgroi/)
So what does this have to do with love? It proves Goldberg’s point: writers really are great lovers. What I learned from Souster’s poem was to pay attention to detail, to the importance of the image, and to allow the words to draw a portrait in straight-forward, simple language. And clearly, that is something that I love.
As I take along my bag of books to my favourite summer reading spot and explore the work of contemporary Canadian poets such as Canisia Lubrin and Billy-Ray Belcourt, I look forward to falling in love with the work of these current poets, and learning from them. As you go through your own summer reading list, I challenge you to ask yourself: who will you fall in love with this summer? And what will you learn from your romance?