This is my letter to the World
That never wrote to Me—
Poetry is beautiful, tragic, raw human emotion. Poetry is power and vulnerability. If you watched the most recent US presidential inauguration, Amanda Gorman completely captivated the world with her poem “The Hills We Climb.” Even people I spoke to afterwards who don’t particularly care for poetry said they were looking for her published work to purchase online. I was thrilled because I felt like other people were finally experiencing poetry as excitedly as I do.
Poetry is often depicted in ways that make it seem like it’s out of touch and difficult to understand. A few cliches come to mind, either a student reading a two-century year old poem aloud to an uninterested, adolescent English class where they have to “figure it out” instead of engaging with feelings, or a dimly lit stage with a bongo-drum player and the “weird” girl dramatically reciting something seemingly indecipherable (think Doug Funnie’s older sister).
Then there’s the high school boy who fakes a poem to get a girl to swoon over him and his apparent sensitivity. When we think of poetry this way, of course all we can say is “I don’t get it.” But it doesn’t get a real chance!
Like music, poetry often has lyrical qualities and rhythm that help it move and to move others. The pauses and white space on the page are just as important as the words. Though it uses language and creates images, much of the poetic experience transcends language. In my research on the creative process in consciousness, I found that, to quote myself, poetry “opens the door to deeper knowing.” There is an “interconnected experience in poetry (and other creative arts) that could perhaps be described as empathy.” I called it empathy because of the “intense feelings of relating to someone else’s work” with your own memories, emotions or feelings. The knowing is in the connection to another’s human experience.
Occasionally I’m struck by certain lines in poetry, and that feeling is something like empathetic knowing while also very abstract or intangible. Some poems have impacted my life. I believe a bookshelf speaks of the person who has collected, read, organized/curated the books. It’s also worth considering having a diverse personal library because it allows you to intimately engage and deeply connect with different voices telling different stories.
I don’t expect to sell anyone on poetry, and the poems I’ve chosen to share here weren’t chosen for the purpose of presenting what I think is the best out there. I thought that rather than continuing to talk about poetry I could share a taste!
A piece by the late Alejandra Pizarnik translated from Spanish by Cecilia Rossi.
Woman with Eyes Wide Open
This one is by Jericho Brown in my copy of his book The Tradition (2019).
A poem by the late Mary Oliver in my copy of her book Dream Work (1986).
Finally, one of my very own.
Go read, write, or listen to poems! Use them as a vehicle for feelings and connection.
Emily Dickinson (1862) Poem 519 in The Norton Anthology of American Literature 8th Edition Volume 2 (2013) p. 91
Ada Limón (2018) The Carrying, Corsair Publishing, p. 42
Jericho Brown (2019) The Tradition, Copper Canyon Press, p. 49
Mary Oliver (1986) Dream Work, The Atlantic Monthly Press, p. 14