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Joanne the Poet - The Poetry of Joanne M. Clarkson

The Glass Key


Poetry is not easy. Each poem is essentially a portrait of another soul. And spirit is individual. But it is also collective, or any kind of art would be pointless.

I often think of a poem as shielded by a glass wall. I can see it. I can even read it. But from this distance I can’t enter, can’t incorporate it forever into the beauty of my life.

Each great poem has a key. Or maybe a pass code. The one exquisite line that holds the door open to the rest of the work. It can be the seed of the poem, what sparked it. It can be a conclusion so that the reader says “Aaahhh, I must read this again.” It might be an unanswered question. A refrain. A description so perfect the object will never be the same without this naming.

I could give millions of examples, of course, keys of every metal glinting from an endless spiraled chain. Simply thumbing through volumes on my desk I open Transtromer’s The Half-Finished Heaven and in the poem “Guard Duty” find the line “…I am still the place/where creation works on itself.” Browsing Kooser’s Kindest Regards I enter “In the Basement of the Goodwill Store” through the verses “and the things you once thought/you were rid of forever/have taken you back in their arms.”

Alberto Rios tells me A Small Story About the Sky through the line “We are made of stardust and centuries/Of gills and wings both.” In Libby Maxey’s award-winning Kairos I am changed forever by “Open Cluster,” when the difficulty of the human dynamic is described, “Where there is so much love, it strains the strings/Of kindness” until “In some dark nebula I take their hands.”

I have persevered for years like a mime, examining the poetic window with the flat of my hands. My efforts are rewarded again and again as a line dissolves the glass, and my mind enters, prismatic.

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