In a workshop this summer at Lighthouse Writers, Thomas Lux, author of Child Made of Sand: Poems, and other books of poetry, said that achieving “true sentiment” is a goal of poetry. But how do we avoid crossing the line, slipping into the sentimental? My sense is that clichés and hackneyed phrases signal that slippage.
Unwittingly, at Ziggi’s in Westminster last week, Carolyn Jennings, author of Hunger Speaks: A Memoir Told in Poetry, confirmed this for me. During her appearance, Carolyn suggested that we jot down sights and tastes and smells of Christmases past. As we know, the olfactory gland is linked in the brain to memory and so, sensations of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and Trifle (the English dessert made of sponge cake, raspberry jam, sherry, vanilla pudding and whipped cream), came flooding in, carrying my mother’s spirit.
Christmas is that time when we gather our ghosts, string lights on eaves, add glitter and sparkle to winter’s shortest days. It is when, for many, The Light came in the birth of Jesus, into this brutal and beautiful world. Opposites – our gifts, burdens, sadness the underbelly of happiness, fear of loss underlying all we love. A poem that illuminates these twins, like the unseen face of the moon, cannot read like a greeting card, can it? And so I dig, my pen a shovel, down where some truth lurks.