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(Note: books are rated from one to five smiley faces, one being a book I didn’t like very much, and five being a book I loved.)
I have another confession to make (this blog ought to be called “Pequea Valley Confessor”). I am not much of a poetry reader. For the longest time, I didn’t even really like it at all. I’d been the victim of some extraordinarily bad English teachers who, instead of waking me up to the wonders and magic of poetry, had done their best to make what already seemed extremely difficult to grasp completely out of my reach. I came to think of all poems as huge riddles, each one with an answer obvious to everyone but me. Forget not seeing the forest for the trees. I wasn’t even seeing the trees for the leaves (the bugs on the leaves, even), so convinced was I that every single word, syllable, and letter was a clue to This Poem’s Meaning.
I eventually graduated from various academic institutions and managed to get over all that. I’ve come to love poems that hit just the right nerves for me, that beg to be read and re-read. However, I am still convinced that they’re hard to find. Reading poetry is very different from reading prose. I can stick with prose, even if I am not completely enamored of it, but if a poet doesn’t grab me by the third or fourth poem, forget it. I won’t read anymore.
April is National Poetry Month, so I decided to browse Pequea Valley’s poetry books. I was thrilled to find this little gift tucked on the shelf. Judith Viorst is one of those poets who grabbed me immediately when I read her It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty. Her poems, while often very funny and sometimes devastating, are always very real.
Viorst is closer to my mother’s age than to my age (she’s got another book of poetry after this one called I’m Too Young to Be Seventy: and Other Delusions), so I have read these books of poetry of hers with more of an idea of “that will be me one day” than with a “that’s me” feeling (although, I am, of course, well over being hip and thirty now). Nonetheless, because she is timeless, and because she so well gets to the heart of the matter, I still find myself thinking, “That’s me.” That’s part of her magic. Another part is helping me to see my mother in ways I never have — finding a lot of common ground that all women walk.
She may not be someone critics with Ph.D.s would consider a Great Poet. She may not even be someone who would call herself a poet, but she is someone I can count on to present me with poems I can understand, full of Life’s Answers, beautiful forests that feed my soul. That’s exactly what she does with this collection, and that, in my book, is what good poetry should do.