Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for The T.E. Lawrence Poems

When I first moved to Albuquerque nearly eleven years ago, one of the first things I did was join a narrative poetry writing group. I saw their notice seeking new members up at my local indie bookstore, and wanted to join on the spot. I called the listed number, talked to a very nice poet, and attended my first meeting several days later. It was a great group, even if I didn't know that much about narrative poetry at the time, other than having read Gaudete, the subject of my "G" post for the A-Z Challenge. 

Unfortunately, several months later the group was the target of a hostile takeover (bet you didn't know groups could fall prey to things like that) and almost overnight it became a . . . science fiction novel writing group! Huh?? I don't write science fiction. I needed a new group, and soon.

Except there were no other narrative poetry groups in Albuquerque. When I told a poet friend in Canada about what had happened and how much I wanted to learn more about the genre, she immediately sent me a very special gift: a copy of The T.E. Lawrence Poems by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen, a book my friend described as "narrative poetry at its best." She was right.

The T.E. Lawrence Poems is a fictional "autobiography" told in verse from the point of view of Lawrence of Arabia. This Lawrence isn't Peter O'Toole, and maybe not even the author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but he sure comes across as real. Reading this book is worse than having an endless bowl of Fritos--once I start, I can't put it down.

I have never been the type of person who can describe poetry very well. I use words like amazing, fantastic, beautiful, soul-stirring, but none of them say what I want to say about poetry. Maybe it's because I just don't know how you can write about poetry, except maybe to write another poem!

Which is what I did on a trip to Taos, New Mexico a few summers back. It started with a simple misunderstanding: During much of the trip I kept talking about how much I wanted to see all the places D.H. Lawrence had been while he lived in Taos. It wasn't until we were at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House that I realized with a jolt that my husband thought I'd been talking all this time about T.E. Lawrence. I was stunned. Sons and Lovers had NOTHING to do with camels. I had to process this in my art journal before I felt as if I'd fallen down the rabbit hole:

Lawrence in Taos

There were no deserts he could recognize;
His motorbike too small and industrial;
His politics unpopular;
His clothing suspicious.
Arrested over and over for assisting--they thought--Al Qaeda, 
He could not convince them he wasn't who they thought he was:
It was terrible how narrow their vision was
And how much he wanted to go home . . .

Whew, that felt better.

I hope you get a chance to read The T.E. Lawrence Poems one day. The copy my friend sent was a used edition, and I was lucky to get it. There are some pencilled annotations in the margins from previous readers, and whoever they were, they seemed to have enjoyed the book almost as much as me! 

Happy National Poetry Month, everyone, and I'll see you tomorrow with the letter "U."

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