ABOUT THE POET
Eileen Valentino Flaxman
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
In two straight lines they broke their bread
And brushed their teeth and went to bed...”
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
And so, at the age of two, my love of words began. Piles of Little Golden Books littered our house and my father would read aloud as many as my four sisters and I could carry and dump into his lap. He made up stories of his own, too - the main characters being bunny rabbits, Billy goats and alligators. But his influence didn’t stop there. He peppered his conversations with big words and when we’d ask, “What does that mean?” would point to the dictionary and say, “Look it up.”
My sisters and I made the usual detours through comic books and romance magazines, but my mother took us to the library weekly, where an entire world lay at our feet. To this day, we’re card-carrying members of our local libraries and text each other our favorite reads.
And then there’s poetry. Unlike any other kind of reading, poetry lies firmly in the present, gently stopping time if we let it, and helps us resist the urge to turn the page briskly and just 'get on with it' and finish. A poet relishes the details and helps us slow down to relish them, too. Kind of like spending time with a toddler, who forces you into the right-now moment as she examines a butterfly for the very first time.
That’s reading poetry. Writing poetry also demands one stay present, obsessing on the tiniest things and drilling down endlessly for meaning … and crystallizing one’s point in as few words as possible - a challenge I can’t resist. Fussing and fuming over the exact right word, coupled with the exact right sound – well, it’s not for everyone. It’s for me.
And to what aim? The writer Noel Coward once fretted, “Since my life began / The most I've had is just a talent to amuse…”- a fear I shared, for as a writer and performer, I wanted to do so much more: touch you, make you think, maybe even break your heart a little. The best compliment I ever received came from an elderly gentleman who, after making his way haltingly up to the stage after one of my performances, grabbed my hand tightly and said, “You made me feel things I haven’t felt in years.”
That remains my benchmark.
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