The Blue-Collar Bookseller’s Review: April is National Poetry Month | Comments

They say the pen is mightier than the sword, although I much prefer my Swiss army knife. However, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by a course called “The pen and the sword”, taught by an aikido* master.

Really, now was my chance to learn how to kill a man with a ballpoint pen and get that CIA job. If he who lives by the sword dies by the sword, then he who lives by the pen…? Writing is not for the weak. I must be strong. I must be ready. I must be ready.

I was ready to become a master of both the pen and the sword. I anxiously awaited the arrival of the sensei (teacher in Japanese). The room is filled with gym mats – also called tatamis – and nervous energy. Here I would forge the weapon of my mind, the strength of my mind, the tool of my will.

A portly man waddled into the room with a Grizzly Adams beard and blazing blue eyes, like a half-mad Viking warrior who forgot where he put his bearskin. Couldn’t it be the teacher? Surely such a man was born to wield an unsightly battle axe, not the elegantly crafted katana. Lost? Looking for a Wagner opera? A drum circle?

Her voice rang out: “You have to write a poem. You have one minute. Goes!”

A mad rush of students rushed to the far wall where there was a table laden with clean white paper and pencils. Quickly, I grabbed a pencil. “Only a minute to create a poem of truth and beauty, and it must be awesome!” I looked to the skies for inspiration; I begged my muse to guide me. I looked within and found myself.

There is a saying: “No matter where you go, there you are.” And I was there. Some might say I’m stubborn or have a blatant disregard for authority figures. Maybe, maybe not. But I was in the moment, and that rebel in me grabbed that pencil and wrote four quick lines that spilled out of me.

I have to write a poem.

That must be good.

No I do not know.

No, this is not the case.

I put down my pencil and smiled smugly like that smart kid in geometry class who always finishes his exam before everyone else. You don’t hate that? The berserker glared at me and growled, “Are you done?”

“Yeah.” I replied arrogantly.

“You now have thirty seconds!” roars the madman…

Aikido (aikidō) translates to “the way of the harmonious mind” and emphasizes joining with an attack and redirecting the attacker’s energy. Hey, if you can’t beat them, join them. This course should not therefore make me a lethal weapon, but it made the art of poetry more accessible to me. The arts of war have strong traditions in many art forms, from poetry to calligraphy to flower arranging.

Martial arts is more than what you do or do to someone. Martial arts can help build confidence, fitness, discipline and awareness of one’s surroundings. It’s something you feel. Be what you are. Being in the moment is not always pretty.

What is poetry? Is it more than words? If it has no structure, is it poetry? If it doesn’t rhyme, is it poetry? If it’s in free form, or freestyle, is it a poem? Poetry, and its discussions, have a long history, and poets and scholars will never agree on a definition.

For me, poetry is a way to express an idea, an emotion, a feeling or a memory in a concise way. It can be graceful, beautifully voiced or even brutal – an elegant arc from a sharp blade or a quick body slam into the breadbasket.

No, my aikido teacher was not a bully or tyrant, but a kind, gentle man with lessons to teach and a wacky sense of humor. The true power of a poem is its honesty and truth. You can dress him up, flesh him out, or make him salsa dance, but if it’s not real, it’s really nothing at all. What is poetry? All I can say is, “You’ll know it when you feel it…”

For more, see Dave Lowry’s Sword and Brush: The way of the brush reflects the strategic principles of the sword, Lowry masters both.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: A celebration of the act of writing, by a master storyteller. I don’t know of his prowess in the mortal arts, but I wouldn’t recommend meeting him in a dark alley.

BH Fairchild’s The Art of the Lathe: a collection of poems centered on the working world of the Midwest, the isolations of small-town life, and the possibilities and occasions of beauty and grace among machine shops and oil fields rural areas. Kansas.

Kevin Coolidge is currently a full-time factory worker and part-time bookseller at From My Shelf Books & Gifts in Wellsboro, PA. When he is not working, he writes. He is also a children’s author and creator of The Totally Ninja Raccoons, a children’s series aimed at reluctant readers. Visit his author site at

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