How I Discovered Poetry: Dorianne Laux

How I Discovered Poetry ~ Dorianne Laux


Alouette, gentille Alouette
Alouette je te plumerai

A song my mother sang about plucking a lark:

La tete – the head
Le nez – the nose
Les yeux – the eyes
Le cou – the neck
Les ailes – the wings

Au Claire de la lune

My mother sang to my sisters, to me, the French words translated thus:

Under the moonlight,
My friend Pierrot
Lend me your pen,
So I could write a word
My candle is out,
I’ve no more light
Open your door for me…

Frère Jacques, Frère JacquesDormez-vous, dormez-vous?

My brother’s name was John, and we called him Jack. His two names, oddly combined, made me wonder if he could hear us in the other room, one wall away.

Are you sleeping brother John?

Sur le pont d’Avignon

On the bridge of Avignon
They are dancing, they are dancing…

These were the first poems that came to me in the dark, songs from my mother’s lips. I understood very little of the language, or what the songs meant, they were simply pretty tunes meant to put us to sleep. I remember singing along to Alouette, touching my pudgy finger to my nose, my eye, my neck. I loved the part when I patted my own head. Had I been able to translate the other words to conjure the image of a lark, a bird I had never seen, never heard of until I read a poem by Adam Zagajewski when I was in my late forties, a yellow lark dead in someone’s hands, being plucked, feather by feather, of his living coat, well, I don’t know what. Those songs were my entryway into poetry. They taught me that language was mysterious, that it could lull you or waken you into a different reality or deepen reality. There was much that was wrong in my house. It wasn’t a safe place or a pretty place, children were beaten and abused, the neighborhood was tough, the landscape dry and weedy, the ground ungiving and rough. But there were songs, moments, when the mysteries of language lifted us up and made us, ragged as we were, a family. I’ve been trying to find that place, with words, ever since.

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One response to “How I Discovered Poetry: Dorianne Laux

  1. And, Dorianne, that amazing awakening into a different, deeper reality is just what I felt when I first discovered your poems. Thank you!

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