Tag Archives: poetry

Among The Garbage And The Flowers



Leonard Cohen

1934 – 2016

“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen – Anthem


Leonard Cohen always thought of himself as a humble poet. His first collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published in 1956. Book of Mercy won the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for Poetry. He was reading his poems in Greenwich Village cafes and YMCA’s when friends such as Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith encouraged him to put his words to music. Because of their insight and understanding about how poetry can best reach out to modern culture I first heard his singular voice, at once gravelly and harmonic, in my sophomore year in high school.

Leonard’s transcendent verses exemplify that song writing can be a practice – as redemptive as prayer. Thank you Leonard, for the legacy of your generous body of work, your golden voice, and, personally, for your lifelong inspiration to me, to not only write from a place so true that it becomes holy, but to encourage young writers to express themselves through the written word.

Below is an essay from Santa Monica Chronicles – an autobiographical work in progress.

Among the Garbage and the Flowers

In the summer of my fifteenth year my mother said that times were hard with my father out of work and I was old enough to get a summer job. I had no idea why or what it was for, or even exactly what “social” meant, but I had to have a Social Security card in order to get a real job. She took me a long way on the bus to a government building where we waited on metal chairs next to a machine that made coffee one cup at a time, pouring in just the right amount of sugar and creamer. I had read in a book that artists in Paris always drink black espresso in intimate cafes, so that’s what I pretended to do, even though the room was painted a morose kind of dirty green and the coffee was watery, weak and in a Styrofoam cup. When my full name was called it startled me like being caught daydreaming in school. The man behind the counter handed me a card with numbers typed between two Greek columns. I had to sign it and keep it forever.

It was my first day of work. Sparse fluorescents lit the almost empty interior of the high ceilinged warehouse. All was concrete and leaden, the only color in the room being from the day glo clothes of three other workers who glanced at me disdainfully. They looked only slightly older than me, but wore lots of make up, so it was difficult to guess their ages. I was placed, standing, at a table near them. “You take the plastic stick from here, see? And you put this roller on it, that’s right, push it right in…then you dip the roller in this liquid and lay it on the rack to dry. Got it?”

I did this for a while, careful to be fastidious, thinking that this must be what real jobs are like, until I was told that it was time for my break. I was shown the employee lounge. The vinyl sofa was torn and repaired with dull brown electrical tape. I had no idea what to do in there so I decided to go outside. Near the back of the main floor was a heavy door that said EXIT. I pushed it open and walked into a tangle of yellow mustard up to my knees. Climbing roses, lavender and honeysuckle grew wild in a meager space surrounded on all sides by worn brick buildings. I found a discarded wooden box and sat down. The strange garden was littered with broken bottles that glinted through the weeds. Gum and candy bar wrappings so faded from the sun that you couldn’t read the writing on them fluttered like butterflies. A wind turbine spun on the roof of the building next door and above it all burned a rectangle of silver blue sky.

I took off my shoes and, being careful to avoid the shards of glass, walked through a patch of clover still wet from the morning dew. I began to sing, and my voice sounded high and clear and pure, “And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers…” It was a new song I had just heard on the radio. I wished that I could remember all the beautiful words that somehow were sad words, too. I stood there for a long time just singing that same line about the garbage and the flowers over and over until someone came out and told me that my break was over.


The Power of Poetry




Poetry is often looked upon as irrelevant, a part of another era, when people had more leisure time, less distractions; when conversation was an art, and life wasn’t so frenetic. Yet, it is well documented by linguists that children who have early exposure to poetic verse and the phonemic and syllabic sensitivity it brings, have an easier time recognizing individual sounds and learning to read.

Poetry is the heartbeat of literature. Begin a rhyme in a room full of children and watch what happens…a sudden attentive stillness. Even babies, who can’t yet understand the meaning of the words, are entranced by the patterns, repetitions, and rhythms:

I am Sam

Sam I am

That Sam-I-am That Sam-I-am!

I do not like that Sam-I-am

Do you like 
green eggs and ham?

I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

I do not like 
green eggs and ham.

Dr. Seuss – Green Eggs and Ham

Rhyme draws attention to the ending sounds of individual words – alliteration to the beginning. The musical language of poetry rings and reverberates, creating in the child a fundamental joy in literature.

But should the reading of poetry end with nursery rhymes? The emotions that poetry evokes are universal. As children grow older, the reading and writing of poetry can help them to cope with vulnerable truths that are too fragile to share in other ways…love, pain, death, transcendence…feelings not likely to be discussed on Facebook:


Reading aloud one’s own poetry creates a forum for individual expression that inspires confidence and pride. To communicate profound feelings and see that others share them is a transporting experience. In a school system that stresses the head – test taking, memorization, grades, and competition – poetry celebrates the heart. In this increasingly homogenized culture, poetry’s power lies in its originality-whether wild with rage as in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, or soft with the tenderness of e.e.cummings’ somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond, poetry connects us intimately and immediately to our deepest feelings.

The language of poetry encourages inventiveness with words. Hope is “the thing with feathers” (Emily Dickenson). Eyes are “the window to the soul”(Shakespeare). Poetry conjures images that broaden and enlighten the mind. Metaphor and simile invite the reader to look at life in different ways, using unexpected correlations that inspire creative thinking:

The fog comes

on little cat feet

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on

Carl Sandburg – Fog

From the rocking rhythm of early lullabies to the healing strength of dirges, the simple truths of poetry cross all cultures, all boundaries. Introduce poetry early to share the wonder of words with your child, but don’t lose track of how poetry’s elegant, eloquent elucidation can inspire us throughout our life