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One of my college poetry teachers, the poet Jim Seay, had one rule for his fall semester workshops: don’t write about autumn leaves. All other topics were up for grabs, but not autumn leaves. So during the fall of 1998, I sat under trees turning from green to yellow, from yellow to orange, from orange to rust, but I did not write about their leaves.
Every fall, I remember Jim Seay’s rule. By now, I’ve been part of enough creative writing workshops to know why he made that rule: he probably read many a poem about autumn leaves. And of course we want to write about them. Autumn leaves make us sad and happy at the same time. Autumn leaves bless us with their gorgeousness and taunt us with their transience. What better symbol for the ephemeral beauty of life than autumn leaves?
But today, as I reflect on what literature means in my life, I would argue with Jim Seay’s rule: that’s exactly why we should write about them. The fact of the matter is that life is filled with sorrows, if not our own, then those we witness. Amid all this, literature holds a mirror for us, showing us we’re not alone: I’ve seen those leaves too. They’ve broken my heart too! And, as five minutes listening to the news will illustrate, autumn leaves are the least of it.
“We must admit there will be music despite everything,” writes another poet, Jack Gilbert. Reading and writing are a listening to and a making of a music we all need.
Kimberly O’Connor is Lighthouse’s 2013 Alice Maxine Bowie Fellow and currently serves as the Youth Program Coordinator.
This post is part of our Lit Matters series, in which writers and readers express why supporting and elevating literary arts is meaningful to them. Lit Matters stories will be posted throughout the month of November, leading up to Colorado Gives Day on December 9. Mark your calendar for Colorado Gives Day or schedule your gift now. Thank you!