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Poet Marie Ponsot Celebrating Life at 88

November 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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A profile of 88-year-old poet Marie Ponsot, who published her sixth collection of poems last month called "Easy."
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MARIE PONSOT, poet: I’m Marie Ponsot, and I am 88 years old, which is very entertaining. You have not gotten there yet, probably, although quite a few people do. But I recommend it to you. It is really fun. Seventy is great, but 80 is terrific.

And, when you get to be 80, you can say about lot of things that used to cause you anxiety, I don’t care. I just do not care. There are things I care about, but all this worrisome stuff, no, I don’t care.

I’m a city person. I like New York City very much. I have seven children. And they proceeded in the same direction. And so I have 16 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. And there I am, with all these people to love with effort, without having to worry about choosing the right one. I just love them with no effort at all.

And here, for the good of our souls, is a sonnet. It’s called “Testing Gardening.” And, as you can see, I like to putter around with pots and plants and dirt.

“In the garden, I watch myself take care as if I were the garden. I even learn from experience. Slowly — fair is fair — I may grow less stupid and learn to turn error to advantage. Though mistakes take years of uprooting, seedlings sprung from seed dropped a decade ago in error’s long wake.

“I was right to want you, to sweat, weed, balance acid soil, shield you from sunscald early, then prune to make sure the sun you need found you. For the few spring weeks you’re a sprawl of flowers, you green the summer toward the rest in fruited autumn.

“Yet, it’s winter that’s best, yes, to imagine joy, next, the winter test.”

I like to walk. And cities are ideal for walking, because there is no big effort about the pedal, the left, right, left, right, right, left. There is a wonderful rhythm.

And I think it has a lot to do with the other rhythms of the body, like your heart beating away — punk, punk — all the time. And I think it has to do with the way we listen to poetry.

I write longhand, because I want to get the body into the poem. I want to feel the pencil and feel the paper and see it appear right in front of my eyes in my own handwriting, which is terrible, but that is all right. I can read it.

I rewrite a lot. I love to rewrite. And I can go back and do that for a lot of sessions. I write for pleasure. I am a firm supporter of the pleasure principle of life. I think things that we really long to do and are refreshed by doing are what we ought to spend a lot time on. Why not?

I’m going to read a couple poems for you that are small — in their length, anyway — that I might not have had the courage to include in a book of poems before, because, although they are quite grave, they don’t have that quality of poetic elevated gravitas.

This one is called “Simples.”

“What do I want? Well, I want to get better.”

And here’s another one. This one is called “Bliss and Grief.”

“No one is here right now.”

JUDY WOODRUFF: Marie Ponsot reads more of her poetry on our Web site. That’s NewsHour.PBS.org.