A few years ago I bought a book called The Devil Never Sleeps authored by Romanian ex-patriot Andrei Codrescu. I had listened to Codrescu for years on NPR, and I was interested in reading his essays (which, by the way, did not disappoint). As I read his observations about Romania and Eastern Europe under Soviet control, I was struck by his adoration of and faith in poetry. It’s no exaggeration to say, from Codrescu’s viewpoint, poetry was the source of hope to those who suffered decades of communist despotism as well as a subversive force undermining the monolithic govern
He made such a compelling argument for the purpose, power and necessity of poetry, I had to stop and ask myself what ever happened to poetry. I loved poetry as a young person and even continued to write poetry as an adult. Of course, half of being a poet is relishing the poetry of others—and I couldn’t remember the last time I read a volume of verse.
[So I’m giving in to temptation here; this is a poem I wrote when I was sixteen after moving back to my hometown following an absence of four years; do you have adolescent poems you’re still willing to share?
“All The Animals”
I left something here,
a childhood memory, a melody,
a bit of soul chipped from the tenderest part.
I thought it was refound
but something different,
was in it’s place.
So it does no go to come home
to all the animals,
the souls of my childhood changed.]
For a while, I had a sad, empty feeling when I thought that I had “lost” poetry. Moreover, I had the sinking feeling that as a people, our culture had lost poetry as well. Where was the Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman or Robert Frost of this age?
Then one day I was driving down the road listening to Bruce Springsteen and the “aha moment” burst upon me: I haven’t lost poetry; as a people we have not lost poetry—we just set it to music. I hereby predict that coming generations will “read” the songs of our greatest songsmiths and judge them more as writers than musicians. Annie Lennox, Sheryl Crow, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Michael Stipe, Natalie Merchant, as well as hosts of R&B and hip-hop artists will be required reading for our great-grandchildren fifty years hence.
This great realization made me reflect back over the songs I’ve written over the years (yes, acoustic guitar and harmonica; but nothing to brag about). Some of mine, I’m afraid, will not rise to the level of literature (“Harmless While I’m Sober” comes to mind). But some others—recent as well as distant—may actually be worth reading in coming ages. Herewith, a song of unrhymed verses I wrote in the early 70’s while I was a college student. It is like poetry, sort of. —Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday.
“Early in the Sun”
like contrails of some angels God is sending somewhere.
I think of you for minutes, hoping that you will remember me
without these chains I have been wearing.
I will not ask you lightly for the things you will feel pressed
to give from loving, for they are yours.
Ah, but if you understand our loves are shorter than our lives,
then love me quickly, before they pass.