In a lonely wood, along a creek,
I stand in the cold and the quiet comes
To carry me places I need to be
In the tangle of soul that I find myself,
At the end of a growing week.
As the water flows, I must as well:
From the calling cold to the distant sea,
The known and unknown of what’s meant to be –
As I stand in the edge of the shadow and light
On a separate page of the book from you,
On a separate page of the book.
Sometimes, it’s the poet’s job to point out things that we already know.
- That we are not meant to be surrounded constantly by noise.
- That we all need time and space to think and to feel.
- That, with life, we all know how the story ends; only insignificant details vary.
- That whatever we face, we are largely alone: everyone has a separate walk to walk.
It’s also the poet’s job – sometimes – to try to help with all these things.
- To provide a place of beauty and quiet.
- To (hopefully) aid in feeling and thinking.
- To help us remember that we are all in the same boat in terms of our mortality.
- To remind us that everyone we meet has their own burdens to bear.
This is just one possible view of poetry: many people write with almost the exact opposite purpose in mind:
- To disrupt, jar, and shake the reader into feeling or thinking.
- To move us away from comfortable patterns of thought.
- The show us realities we don’t normally come into contact with: realities about people who live totally different lives.
- To move us to action.
Oddly enough, I see these two diametrically opposed approaches to poetry as having a lot in common:
- To better enable us to think and feel.
- To get us to think about things we might not otherwise.
- To increase the sphere of our empathy.
Poetry can be almost anything that is (a) verbal; and (b) not prose. For many people, poetry exists primarily as spoken; for others, it is designed for reading.
One of the oddities of poetry is that, unlike prose fiction, more people seem to like to write poetry than to read it. Historically, this was not the case. In the days before electronic recording, the more naturally memorable nature of poetry made it a far more popular genre.
Poems can be memorable vehicles for stories, however. This particular poem, by Edward Arlington Robinson, came up in an online conversation the other day:
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
We read that in high school and I’ve never forgotten it. As stories go, it’s striking; in terms of emotional impact, it hits its target.
During this month, I’m writing “poetic essays” which is a fancy way of saying, an essay with a poem attached. Given how much easier it is for me to write poetry than essays, it is a type of crutch.
But hey, if it is the only way you can walk, you use one.