The other night I got to sit across the dinner table from poet Elizabeth Dodd. Elizabeth and I have some things in common: we were both born in 1962 (which means we spent our childhoods not using computers and we've spent our adult lives using them). We live in the middle of the United States (in so-called flyover states). We like to hike in the wide-open spaces of the American West (not so unusual). And we're both openly beholden to poetry (rather unusual these days).
Toward the end of the evening (table cleared, restaurant mostly empty), Elizabeth recited a poem for us: "The art of losing isn't hard to master," she began, and we all sat up straighter in our chairs and leaned closer. "Lose something every day. Accept the fluster." These are words by the late American poet, Elizabeth Bishop, whom Elizabeth Dodd happens to be studying closely again after a twenty-year hiatus.
E. Dodd's face shone and the register of her voice shifted slightly, as if in some essential way she was channeling E. Bishop. "One Art" is a villanelle with repetition and rhyme (but no sing-song effect) about loss, and on E.D.'s tongue, even with the pauses as she retrieved phrases from her memory, it sounded like a prayer, an incantation even–sweet and moving, but fierce. There was not an ounce of pretention in the moment (we'd just been talking about the Pixies, R.E.M., and Peter Frampton), and it felt very large.
Driving back home through the dark, I vowed to go back to that old-fashioned practice: learning poems by heart. I'll let you know how it goes. (Thanks Elizabeth and Elizabeth!)