The backward journey may jog you
forward along the next trail.
~ Naomi Wakan
Naomi Beth Wakan has written/compiled over 30 books. She is a member of Haiku Canada, Tanka Canada, The League of Canadian Poets and Canadian Tanka. Her poetry and essays have been printed in numerous magazines and she has read them on CBC. She lives on Gabriola Island with her husband, the sculptor, Elias Wakan. [See www.naomiwakan.com]
Of special interest for us, Naomi coaches writing and has published helpful books on the topic, especially Late Bloomers – On Writing Later in Life (Wolsak and Wynn, Hamilton 2006). This encouraging, informative, and engaging book includes interviews with 14 authors (including herself) about coming to writing after the age of 50, sometimes many years afterwards. To quote Naomi, “The advantage of starting later in life is that the knocks and blows and pats and praises you have received have already encouraged that still small voice to emerge, though perhaps slowly and timidly.”
Two of Naomi’s poems were selected for our Celebrating Poets Over 70 anthology:
Memories Through Poetry
by Naomi Beth Wakan [First appeared in Senior Living Magazine ]
As a writer, when I have a new book out it means that my publisher requires me to go on the road for promotional purposes. So, recently, I found myself reading at a local library. A poetry group was meeting and I had been invited to join them. I expected the usual modest crowd elbowing each other to go on first and read their newly-minted poems. It didn’t turn out that way. After my reading as the invited poet of the evening, the audience members each came forward and read, not their own writing, but their favourite poems from the past; poems written by others. I sat transfixed, listening to poems I had not heard read aloud since high school. Wordsworth’s “I wandered lonely as a crowd,” Yeats’ “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,” Hopkins’ “Glory be to God for Dappled Things” and Davies’ “A Great Time”. I actually felt tears swell in my eyes as the poems triggered memories. I just let go and wallowed in the past.
But I have a very practical survival streak under all this sentiment and the idea suddenly occurred to me, “Why not,” I thought, “Why not trace peak moments of the past by routing to them via favourite poems?”
The first image that immediately popped into my head was A.A. Milne’s “Little Boy kneels at the foot of the bed” for it was framed with Shepherd’s wonderful illustration and hung above my twin’s and my own bed. Ours was not a religious household, and I was never taught to pray, yet something there was in the “Droops on the little hands little gold head” that stirred a response within me. Mostly, I think now, it was for the desire to have an ordinary family, with a middle-class home and daily rituals – something I never had.
It was years later before I found out that Christopher Robin’s childhood was even messier than my own.
The Lady of Shalott haunted my adolescence, where I loved from afar a series of totally unsuitable older boys, just as The Lady had her web shattered by a glimpse of that idiot, Lancelot.
When I immigrated to North America, it was Dorothy Parker’s brief witticisms that held my imagination – “men never make passes at girls who wear glasses” kind of poetry. Then, of course, there was Ogden Nash’s brilliant word play such as rhyming “obstetrician” with “lobstertrician” and “parsley” and “gharsley” and his hatred of metaphor in “Something Like a Whale,” which was a factor in me writing haiku many years later, where metaphor is totally absent.
Such poems as Emily Dickinson’s wonderful one on “How to make a Prairie” reminded me what an immense and varied landscape I had chosen to adopt as my new home.
I have recently come across a copy of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham, which saw me through early motherhood, delighting both me and my children but, when wifedom and motherhood became jail-like, I recited Stevie Smith’s “Not Waving but Drowning,” which led me to rebirth in Zen Koans and the poetry of Rumi.
During my second marriage, life in rural surroundings became a reality as we built an earth-sheltered house together guided by the nine bean rows in Yeats’ Lake Isle of Innisfree. When rural life became too burdensome, we travelled, and I, nostalgically, became Padraic Colum’s The Old Woman of the Roads as I longed for a home, any kind of a home, to put an end to our meanderings. Japan became a temporary home and haiku and, later, tanka became my favourite poetry forms for expressing myself and Narihara’s death poem began to haunt me:
I have always known
that at last I would have
to take this road
but yesterday I did not know
that it would be today.
Eventually finding and settling in a small house on a reasonable piece of ground, Billy Collins’ witty poetry and Wislawa Szymborska’s brilliantly honest poetry helped me find my own poetic voice and integrity.
at the bank
the teller discusses
I’m secure in the thought
“I live by my poetry”
~ Naomi Beth Wakan
Recently I read Alberto Manguel’s Stevenson Among the Palms: the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s last days. I recalled his wonderful requiem
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie,
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
This wandering through the years with poetry has probably brought up a whole lot of odd lines that have stuck in your mind too, tying past events in your life to poetry. I do hope so.
Featured Original Poem
TO BE AN ELDER
by Ione Grover
Elderhood is a time for freedom,
to dance, to play, to be.
A time to sit back and reflect
It is a time of wondering
Did I live enough?
Did I love enough?
Is there still time?
To read the entire poem,
DOWNLOAD: TO BE AN ELDER, by_Ione_Grover
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You need only claim the events of your life
to make yourself yours.
~ Florida Scott-Maxwell
The possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.
~ Emily Dickens
Until next time, do enjoy sharing family stories over the holidays!