This time of year, I met a woman in a stand of laurel bushes. It turns out by the time she was my age, she’d invented a new kind of poetry.
Imagine having that accomplishment for people to remember you by — but would people remember? She had so little time to play with her own invention. She was born 100 years before me, and she died 100 years ago, so she died at my age. Her name is Adelaide Crapsey, and I met her in a prompt from Maureen Thorson, who runs NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month).
Thorson’s is a wholly informal day-by-day poetry celebration, like WordXWord’s 30/30 challenge, the Berkshires’ home-grown poem-a-day playground. Someone is willing to send out an idea every morning and invite anyone to have fun with it. I love this. It’s like wandering through Wild Oats Co-op and happening on chocolate peanut butter ice cream from Maple Valley Creamery in Hadley. How have I never found this before?
How is it I never knew that the American cinquain was born just over the border from here, and that a woman wrote the first one?
Adelaide grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and taught in Northampton, and she came here too. She wrote a cinquain, a five-line verse, to “Laurel in the Berkshires.”
and coral! Oh, I’ll
climb the great pasture rocks
and dream me mermaid in the sun’s
By the time she saw the snow melt, 100 years ago today, Adelaide had collapsed from tuberculosis. By the time the mountain laurel bloomed that June, she had retired to a treatment center in Saranac Lake, N.Y. It was at least a well-known place, so well-known the locals began to build and adapt houses for patients as a kind of cottage industry. She would have had bed-rest and clean air and gentle care.
And it’s not enough, but it’s something to know that she had a summer day in a Berkshire field, sitting on a rock in the sun, with the wind running up the hill like water up the beach.
What she had then — what I hope she had, because she caught it in those few lines and gave it to me — is what I read poetry for and why I write it. It’s why I’ll try to write a poem a day, and why I’ve tried to even when I was working the night desk in the Eagle newsroom in a month with a 70-page summer magazine and calendar looming at the end. Poetry makes me feel alive.
It’s really that simple. It’s like walking to work, or happening into the coffee shop when live music is playing, or running into an old friend unexpectedly.
It’s the way I’d feel when I walked out of the Eagle’s old mill building at night after a long day, and even walking across a parking lot toward a railroad bridge I’d know I’m in the mountains, because breathing is like taking a long drink of water. The air is cold and clear, and for the first time in months I can feel dampness in it. It’s the first day of thaw.
This column first ran in Berkshires Week on April 2, 2014, in my days as editor of the magazine in the Eagle. My thanks to VP of News Kevin Moran and features editor Lindsey Hollenbaugh.