Opinion

He goes from depression to being uplifted, all courtesy of the ‘Poem of the Day’

The moon turns orange-red during a lunar eclipse as it begins to set below a tree in Clovis just before dawn on Wednesday, Jan. 32, 2018. The moon is often a subject of poetry.
The moon turns orange-red during a lunar eclipse as it begins to set below a tree in Clovis just before dawn on Wednesday, Jan. 32, 2018. The moon is often a subject of poetry. Fresno Bee file

For a daily emotional charge, I’ve given up on sports and politics. Instead, I’ve taken up poetry.

Rather than checking baseball scores or reading political updates as stimulants, I now subscribe to “Poem of the Day.” If you think this is strange, dear reader, bear with me.

I learned in college many years ago the value of poetry. A poem is simply a condensed life experience, a way of feeling what another person has felt that’s expressed in a few words.

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

In some ways, poems, which have been around as long as humans have communicated, are like today’s texts and tweets, sometimes just as short but much more original and creative.

Since college I’ve developed a particular appreciation and enjoyment of poets like Robert Frost, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Robinson Jeffers and William Carlos Williams. What “Poem of the Day” gives me is a much wider exposure to poets of different backgrounds and experiences, mostly writers who are still alive but occasionally a poet who died a few years or many centuries ago.

Within five minutes I can read the daily poem and feel a charge of emotion, or not. Unlike in college, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking whether a poem is particularly good or not. Instead, if the poem appeals to me, I spend some time with it and the author (because the daily email also provides a quick link to the poet’s other poems and biography). If the poem doesn’t appeal to me, I give it short, cursory attention.

If by now, dear reader, you’re tempted to stop reading this column because you’ve had a poor or nonexistent relationship with poetry (as most people have), I encourage you to consider some of the topics of poems I’ve been reading lately. They include “September Tomatoes,” “Learning to Read” and “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom of Sears.”

The first of these three poems reflects on the last few tomatoes in a home garden, the second on the experience of a slave child who secretly and illegally learns to read, the third of an elderly Muslim woman who is determined to follow a religious ritual in the middle of her shopping.

In reading a daily poem, my life has been enlarged, and I have experienced in a few minutes the thoughts and feelings of women and men who have gone through experiences similar to mine or experiences I’ve never imagined. In some cases I get chills feeling what they’ve felt.

What’s good about “Poem of the Day” is that when I’m finished with it, I feel uplifted — as opposed to checking sports scores, which often leaves me deflated when I find my team has lost, or catching up on the day’s political news, which usually leaves me feeling depressed or hopeless.

I typically save the daily poem for the evening, when I’ve finished my chores and tasks and I’m sitting outside with my wife Sandy watching the moon pass by and the stars shine. I get pleasure from the poem, and it helps put my day into perspective.

It was easy to sign up to get a poem a day. I just went to the Poetry Foundation web site and asked for it. It’s a service of Poetry Magazine, which is published where I was born, Chicago, and in print for more than a century. There’s no charge and no advertisements, thankfully.

If you’re still undecided on whether to try “Poem of the Day,” remember you don’t have to like every poem you get. In some cases, I’ve found the daily poem overly complex. That happens when poets try to condense so much into a few words that they can lose many readers in complexity.

But many of the poems have spoken directly to me, like “Failing and Flying,” “The Kindness of Others” and “The Dogs at Live Oak Beach, Santa Cruz.”

Give it try. After all, it’s free. And it may uplift you.

In memoriam: Within the past month Merced County lost two outstanding educators who served students and the community effectively, but with opposite personal styles.

Leslie Bonner was the director of Merced College’s community services program for many years. She brought enjoyment to thousands of persons in Merced, Los Banos and other cities within the college district by providing a wide variety of classes, programs and trips. Leslie was quiet and soft-spoken but accomplished a great deal. Her smile brightened the days of her many friends and colleagues.

Les McCabe served as an ag instructor, department chair, dean and trustee for Merced College for nearly a half-century. He was bigger than life and accomplished many things for the college and for agriculture in Merced County by being blunt, direct and assertive.

For both, service to the community and the success of students were paramount. The devoted their lives to education, and they will be dearly missed.

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com
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