Around Here Somewhere

Advice and insight from a professional poet.


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I keep losing my keys!  I mindlessly carry them around with me after I get home and put them in the most unlikely places. Can poetry do anything to ameliorate my problem?
— Claire C.


I think so. Let me tell you about something I did once. When I moved into my apartment, the previous residents left some dining room chairs out by the dumpster, and since I had been using lawn chairs around my kitchen table, I eagerly snatched them up. They looked OK — a natural wood-finished seat supported by white metal legs and backs — but not nice enough for me to resist the temptation to decorate them. I cut out lots of poems that I have received as hand outs and using a craft product called Modge Podge (basically white glue that saturates the entire appliqué so the finished project has a thick coat), pasted them on the wood and metal. Now I have chairs that are covered in poems, or parts of poems, among them “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) a disaster.

Now, do you think my suggestion is to write a poem about it? Well, I think that’d work but let me first give you a more practical solution. To start, you need to bring more poetry into your world. I suggest doing this by Modge-Podging your entire house in black-and-white copies of poems (everything — even temporary products like cereal boxes), then keep all your keys on a red key ring (maybe with a reflector of some sort). This would help, unless of course you put your keys inside your cereal boxes. If this is too extreme, listen to Bishop. Keys are “filled with the intent/ to be lost,” so losing them is no fault of your own. There’s no “problem,” you just need to adapt: Make three or four extra sets of keys and keep them readily available so that you are not hindered when your regular keys decide simply to obey their nature. Then write a poem, because nothing is ever lost in the ultimate sense if you can make art out of it. • 12 November 2010