Writing my way through the A-to-Z blogging challenge, I’ve tasked myself with throwing open the cabinet of curiosities and wondrous things I call my brain and leading you on a tour of what actually resides in there – all through the lens of unusual, obscure, or simply charming-to-me words.
O is for…
oakus – wallet; pocket billfold (circa 1930, criminal slang)
It delights me that today happens to work out to be April’s O entry and I have a specific reason to introduce you to the word oakus, and I’ll tell you why in a moment. But first let’s talk a bit about wallets.
While we all know what wallets are, their history extends much further back than our modern version. The term wallet has been in usage since the 14th century, but at that time it referred to a sack or bag-shaped object capable of holding essential items and provisions. The ancient Greeks mention messenger god Hermes carrying such a bag which at that time was called a kibisis.
Once paper currency was introduced in the 1600s wallets became the flat-shaped forms we’re familiar with, and coin purses began their demise.
I actually like making wallets, although in the tradition of the Japanese I like to make them out of paper, albeit sturdy highly fibered paper. While origami (bonus O word today) is my favorite, and there are a number of folds I prefer, as a bookbinder I’ve also made more rigid structures akin to checkbook covers with pockets in modified wallet form.
But why am I happy to talk about oakus/wallets today? Well it’s in preparation for tomorrow (April 18) which is Poem in Your Pocket Day. In an annual celebration, undertaken in 2008 by the Academy of American Poets, people are encouraged to choose a poem, carry it around with them and share it with others. What a perfect way to actually participate in April’s National Poetry Month.
I’ve participated for many years, and if you know me at all, you know poetry is essential to my life. I read it daily, and I share my favorites widely with friends. I am on a mission to encourage people to open more fully to this art form, and to see the world through this lens. If I were in charge of things there would be no armies, only poetry academies and versification salons. And everyone would look forward to April’s thirty days of celebration.
While my dreams and imaginings may be bold and unlikely, what is true and doable is that I can in fact carry poems in my pocket to share, and I’ll do so with this paper-fold wallet tomorrow. It has four pockets, so I can slip in four poems.
If we saw each other in person, I’d invite you to choose one of the poems to read. But since we’re not likely to see each other, I’m offering you an opportunity to check out the poems I’ll be carrying.
I try to be mindful when quoting poems here on my blog to use only short excerpts or only those that are in the public domain, so as to respect the rights of the poets. So I’m not going to post the poems here. But no worries – I am linking to them and really encourage you to take some time and check them out.
I understand of course that you might have decided you don’t actually like poetry, and/or that this post is already too long and you don’t have time. I get it. But I’ll offer once again my opinion that poets open portals into seeing and understanding that circumvent our ordinary habitual brain ruts. And it is a gift to sometimes take the journeys that bring us to new edges.
As is often true, my choices for poems are eclectic, and yet these are also loosely held in theme. The world holds hard and difficult things for us to navigate and pretending otherwise is ludicrous. And yet I also believe we are shaped of light that can help us find our way, and offer hope to others as well in finding theirs. So if I were to suggest an order to approach these poems, it would be this:
Sarah Kay’s Jakarta, January. You can listen to the poet reading it or read it yourself here.
Jan Richardson’s How the Stars Get in Your Bones can be read here although you need to scroll down the page.
Barbara Ras’s poem You Can’t Have It All can be found here.
Finally, Hafiz offers his beautiful life guidance in If It Is Not Too Dark here.
So there you have it. A look at what’s in my oakus as I prepare for Poem in Your Pocket Day tomorrow. What about you? Carrying some secret treasure in your wallet? Have a favorite poem? Do tell – you know I love to hear.