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Reading Your Book Like Mom Would

50s family

Is publishing poetry with references to family hazardous to your health? In a weak moment, I decided to test the theory by reading the proof of my poetry collection (I still remain bookless–where’s Dan-O when you need him?) with my mom’s possible reactions in mind.

Bad, meet move!

Like most of us, I know my mother all too well. Of course I hope she responds to the book positively, but reading from her vantage point changed everything. I noticed stuff I never noticed before, using her eyes, and I can already hear her reaction: “Oh, Kenny!” (for only Mom still calls me “Kenny”). “Why are all these poems about death?”

“Uh, they are? Not all. Just some,” I might argue. But mothers get to define “some” in their own ways.

“Some?” she’ll ask with the patented incredulous look. “Where’s my cheerful little boy?”

“Ma, death is one of literature’s great muses. Don’t you ever wonder where you’re going to go? It’s the stuff of so many myths in so many cultures!”

“Have you been skipping Mass again?”

“Think of Orpheus. Persephone. All those trip to Hades to figure out what happens. And what about the Divine Comedy? Nine circle of Hell, Ma. Nine!”

“That would be Irene’s book group get-togethers, but I don’t see…”

“Don’t you realize that guys like Homer and Faulkner and Joyce wrote about it? It even came for the archbishop in that Willa Cather novel!”

“Willa who?”

Death Comes for the Archbishop, Ma.”

She’ll grimace, I know. “That’s fine and for the church to settle, but we don’t have time for death, and I told my friends about this book because I was so proud. Now what are they going to think? They’re going to think, ‘What a depressing boy she raised!’ Where’s your sense of humor. Can’t you write something cheerful? A poem about jelly beans or something.”

“There are cheerful poems in there, Ma. Honest. And I don’t write for the Easter bunny. Here. Let me show you some pages with upbeat poems.”

“It’s OK, dear. I browsed through already.”

“What? You didn’t read them all?”

“Most all,” she’ll say. Mothers get to define “most” and “all” too, you see.

And so it goes. And so I am amazed. Deep analysis sometimes reveals new layers of poetry, but who knew reading with the eyes of a mother does, too? And how did the New Critics miss this?

Weekend Update: I have no clue how my alleged books are arriving: United Parcel? Fed Ex? Good ole United States Postal Service? The latter was the last hope of the weekend, however, as the noonish mailman has come and gone leaving only bills and other clichés in the box.

So there’s a downside to weekends after all. Maybe Monday? Stay tuned!