“A poem . . . begins,” Robert Frost once wrote, “as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness . . . It finds the thought and the thought finds the words.” Frost evokes the tensions between feeling and thinking, experiencing and knowing, loving and understanding that have been so central to my life as a student and professor of romantic poetry, a writer, and a mother. This book began as a lump in the throat, as a homesickness for the magical world of my childhood and for the home life I was looking forward to with my child. It began with a sickness of love for a child I adored but did not understand, a love searing in its intensity, overwhelming in its sense of longing and vulnerability, a love I feared would never be reciprocated, and worst of all would never make an impact. It began with a pining for contact with the spirit or essence of my child, a wrenching fear that perhaps everything I did and said was in vain because he was unreachable and unimpressionable, a fierce devotion to a child I would do anything to save.
This is a story of the relationship between literature and life, the ideal and the real, of poetry vs science, magic vs measurement, honoring mystery vs unraveling it. And at its heart this book is a love story: a story of two very different people learning to accept and affect and make space for each other in mysterious and powerful ways.