Here’s the deal, I’m going to keep blogging about poetry until I feel like I have adequately explained the power, potency and value poetry has in our increasingly verbal and literate society. So…..sadly for you, that means I will always be blogging about poetry. You’re welcome.
So here goes another one.
Let’s start there. Words matter.
I knew it in second grade when I went to the nurses office with another bloody knee, but more hurt by what was said to me on the playground and Mrs. Smith replied with the ever lovable, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I knew it was shit then and guess what? It’s shit now. Sticks and stones might break bones, but words have the power to tear the very flesh from bones. They have the power to rip spirits and wills out of fledgling humans and they have the power to incite humanity to throw sticks, stones, oh and then grenades and weapons of mass destruction at each other.
So yeah, words matter!
And poetry takes that seriously.
Now I know some of you might already be thinking, aaugh Hannah enough already. I don’t know any poetry. I don’t get poetry, it’s just not for me. And maybe, some of that is true, but if you were raised within an inch of the Western Christian tradition I bet you know a poem…and probably by heart.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Psalm 23 baby!
Even if you’re not Christian, even if your background didn’t include going to church and reading the Bible, Psalm 23, A POEM, is in the very fabric of our lives. Hell, I learned it from John Wayne and Katherine Hepburns Roster Cogburn. It’s a poem that captures us in moments of pain, sorrow and grief. Sure, every line, word and phrase has been parsed, intellectualized and explained by rabbis, pastors, and theologians, to the point of oblivion. But it is still a poem. It matters to a LOT of people (not my personal favorite Psalm, which are ALL POEMS!…Psalm 10 has been more speaking to my mood lately..but I digress). Oh and you most likely knew it, you maybe even skipped over it cause you knew it. So I win!
Here’s my point…but first, here’s how Marie Howe describes the power of poetry in an interview with Krista Tippet, “Well, poetry holds what can’t be said. It can’t be paraphrased. It can’t be translated. The great poetry I love holds the mystery of being alive….poetry has a kind of trancelike quality. It has the quality of a spell.”
So here’s my point. Poetry sits in the spaces we can’t name. With the fewest words possible it attempts to describe the empty spaces, the spaces between that which makes up our lives and across the spectrum of our lives; from that which exists in the space of the daily mundane tasks of being a caregiver, to the space around transcendental moments and meaning of life stuff. These words matter!
And sure, there is as much variety and diversity and taste in poetry as there is in music, or visual art, or television and film. And I know, my particular taste in poetry hasn’t shown you the lighter, funnier, perhaps, more accessible side of poetry, though if you are around my age you all know who Shel Silverstein is (so again, you know and get poetry…told ya…). I am drawn more to the mystical, wrestling with meaning of life stuff poets, but this poem “The Camel” came in my email a while back and I laugh out-loud and it too sits in the unnamed space. Go ahead, give it a go. Here’s the picture that came with the email (poem below or use link):
Don’t tell a camel about need and want.
Look at the big lips
in perpetual kiss,
the dangerous lashes
of a born coquette.
The camel is an animal
grateful for less.
It keeps to itself
the hidden spring choked with grass,
the sharpest thorn
on the sweetest stalk.
When a voice was heard crying in the wilderness,
when God spoke
from the burning bush,
the camel was the only animal
to answer back.
Dune on stilts,
it leans into the long horizon,
the secret caches of watermelon
brought forth like manna
from the sand.
It will bear no false gods
not the trader
who cinches its hump
nor the tourist.
It has a clear sense of its place in the world:
after water and watermelon,
heat and light,
silence and science,
it is the last great hope.
(Wislawa Szymborska – English version by Joanna Trzeciak)
I mean…it is just too good!
Words really do matter and poetry takes that seriously. In a society of ever increasing words in news, television, any written word (irony not lost…yep I am using all the words to write about the importance of not using words, stick with me people) sometimes we need to hear words that name our empty spaces and call them forth:
Only as a child am I awake
and able to trust
that after every fear and every night
I will behold you again.
However often I get lost,
however far my thinking strays,
I know you will be here, right here,
time trembling around you.
(excerpt from Rilke, ‘Book of Hours’ I,62)
Happy reading everyone! And if you want to give poetry a try, here are some options for you 😉