For the handful of you who read these entries and perhaps wondered why nothing appeared last month…
It’s not that I didn’t think about what poetry is for during April. I did. But April is National Poetry Month and something in me resists limiting our attention (to both important and frivolous issues*) by calendar dates.
The question of addressing April – National Poetry Month – seems daunting. Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, it is the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.
Is there something to celebrate? Vital place? On the Academy of American Poets website we see, prominently displayed, an invitation to visit their gift shop:
- Emily Dickinson Tarot Deck I have an errand imminent To an adjoining Zone… $25.00
- Sylvia Plath Necklace “I am I am I am” Inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar $30.00
- Wallace Stevens Paperweight I wish that I might be a thinking stone. Ea. $8.00
The impulse to give a gift, a kind of celebration, subverted by commercialism, or, to use a truly ugly word – monetized.
Okay, so…am I ranting. What, instead, should we be considering?
The tools of poetry – rhythm, the managed intervals of line and stanza, the play of language against silence, transformations enacted by metaphor – are certainly enlisted in what we are talking about here…but as any good writing teacher can tell you, it is easy to get children (or adults for that matter) to write something that looks and sounds (and sometimes even smells) like poetry – but is it?
What is it we are lobbying for in the month of national awareness and national celebration? What is poetry and what is it for? Could it be something we have available to us to measure and to come to (our) terms with the complexity and sprawling upheavals of our daily lives? When we pace ourselves by our heart’s breath, consciously, are we making poetry? When we pause, the ready word on our lips but a longing for a more precise, a more sensual, a more… accurate… word, are we being poets? Dw, in fact, commit poetry more often than we know? Since everyone in the nation spent the last month offering an answer, I’ll toss mine into the bowl as well…Yes!
Poetry – making it, reading it, listening to it, breathing it – requires we privilege heart over mind, intuition over logic, questions over answers. Not easy for any of us given the vast array of encouragements (think wealth, position, respect, comfort, or conversely, avoiding embarrassment, pain, grief or shame) aligned against the workings of poetry in our culture.
Perhaps the need for a national month of awareness is the strongest indication we are not doing this work. Do we hold a National Bank Account Week or Stock Market Day? a Hurrah for Everyone who Won the Election Month? a Let’s Give Respect to Those Who Have Most Earned It awareness campaign?
Instead of holding poetry insulates us from the pressures of the real world, instead of giving poetry some elevated place on a distant pedestal, why not invite her to help us confront the world by showing how language frays under culturally and historically adverse conditions. How we could respond to events – pollution, ecological demise, enslavement, intolerance – with imagery and metaphor where common words fail? How true language, not corporatized words – through the envoy of the senses – takes us into intimate knowledge of the real world, our real world – the only one there is.
Perhaps by inviting poetry, fresh language, to pause and look carefully, without bombast or judgment, without promise of a sale or a life-changing drug, without corralling our thoughts and feelings into a calendar-appropriate week or month, we will begin to know things a little better, a little more clearly, and can make a soul-ful decision about how to act. Now THAT would be worth celebrating.
* I’m so incensed, wrought up, and piqued
that I can hardly speak.
To Mothers we give a single day,
to pickles we give a week.