I tried to imagine an early morning drive with poet Marjorie Maddox, whose creative suitcase is crammed with metaphors. I was enveloped in fog, which occluded my vision, on this particular day. My surroundings became the murky sea, and my auto a submarine. The tall, stark silver maples along the roadway became the kelp forests off the coast of California, and the 18-wheeler entering the road from the left became a large, gray whale, which I followed into a labyrinth of coral reefs (the city) teeming with colorful fish (cars) darting back and forth.
The entire morning after our chat was spent in a dreamy, soft-focused world of poetry, and it felt good. I felt like I had a special pair of glasses that transformed the world around me, and I couldn’t stop jotting down ideas.
Last night, I browsed the stacks at a bookstore in Virginia while visiting family, and immediately was drawn to the poetry section. I looked at names on spines and wondered, “Who are these people? How do I know if I’ll enjoy them?” I chickened out and picked up an anthology of the best 100 poems in the world, tucking it into my suitcase for later.
This is why I enjoy speaking with other writers, especially writers who are comfortable with their craft. Their love for their work inspires me to explore and stretch and be brave. I’ll most likely never do much with my foggy morning/under the sea poem, but it was such fun to look around as I drove the same lonely stretch of road into town and to see something different. Something I hadn’t seen in the hundreds of other drives.
Marjorie has published 11 poetry collections and a book of literary fiction, and she’s edited a lovely book about Keystone poets for Penn State University Press. She’s a professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, where she leads students into the world of literature, often “through the back door,” encouraging them to view their world with new eyes.
She’s gracious and funny and inspiring, and not just with her students, but with her readers. I curled up on my window seat, snow piling up outside, and read through her poetry collection, “Local News from Someplace Else,” and at times, I laughed aloud. Other times, I wiped a tear. I could relate to almost every poem she wrote, either as a parent, a teacher, a stranger in Pennsylvania, as a world citizen.
Next, I moved on to “True, False, None of the Above,” and was enchanted by the wordplay as her poems danced the tango with Robert Frost and others. I laughed again as the English teacher struggled with suicide notes, tossing one illegible farewell into the wastebasket after the other, only to get back to work grading papers. Who hasn’t felt the drudgery of work, and felt the task at hand was terminal?
I had a great time chatting with Marjorie, as I’m sure you’ll hear. So, accept my half-hearted apologies for interrupting the flow of this show with my giggles, because I’m not sorry I enjoyed myself. Like many people, I am a stranger in a strange land when it comes to poetry, but Marjorie opened the door and welcomed me. Her poetry is accessible, understandable, relatable, and sometimes downright fun to read.
She’s brave, also, tackling heart-breaking events, like the Amish school shooting, or the crash of TWA Flight 800. Author Ray Bradbury says, reading poetry is like flexing a muscle. Reading Marjorie’s poems is a workout, swinging the reader from laughter to tears with the turn of a page. All writers yearn for that power.
My wish is that Marjorie can inspire you to think creatively about the world around you, as she has inspired me. Start reading poetry. Find poets whom you enjoy and learn more about what inspires them. Hopefully, it will awaken a song in your heart.
If it does, capture the ideas as soon as you can, on a piece of paper, or as a voice recording on your mobile phone. Let your poems gestate, like Marjorie does, then work on them, revise them, and then share them.
If you’re local, stop in at Otto’s Bookstore and pick up a book of Marjorie’s poems. If not, look for her books online at Amazon. Use the handy links below.