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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

An entrance to the world

“A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea.” – John Ciardi

How Does a Poem Mean? asked John Ciardi in 1959 and this interesting and inciteful teacher and writer suddenly opened the door to the wonders of both writing and reading poetry to generations of young people who continue to study his book in classrooms everywhere.

Born on this date in 1916, Ciardi was not only a poet, but also a terrific etymologist, essayist, radio commentator, and translator of one of the most complex writings in history – Dante’s Divine Comedy. 

Once you’ve read Ciardi’s book on how to write and undersand poetry, take a look at some of his own poems, especially in the two books bracketing World War II  Homeward to America and Other Skies, the latter focusing on his wartime experiences.  And his commentary and editorial work on Mid-Century American Poets  provides the world a wonderful look at America’s contribution to poetic writing.   

One of my favorite short pieces occurring regularly on National Public Radio (and still available in some markets) was Ciardi’s fascinating On Words.  Not only hearing about words but listening to his rich deep voice describing them was worthy of pulling over to the side of the road and turning up the radio.     Also a much sought after teacher, he directed the famed Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont while teaching first at Harvard and then at Middlebury College, where he also directed the poetry program. "The classroom," Ciardi said,  "should be an entrance into the world, not an escape from it.” 

Lines - by John Ciardi

I did not have exactly a way of life
but the bee amazed me and the wind's plenty
was almost believable. Hearing a magpie laugh

through a ghost town in Wyoming, saying Hello
in Cambridge, eating cheese by the frothy Rhine,
leaning from plexiglass over Tokyo,

I was not able to make one life of all
the presences I haunted. Still the bee
amazed me, and I did not care to call

accounts from the wind. Once only, at Pompeii,
I fell into a sleep I understood,
and woke to find I had not lost my way.

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