Poetry books typically sell a couple thousand copies at best. So why would a writer choose poetry if it only reaches a limited market, instead of jumping onto the bandwagon of authors writing books in every genre imaginable? Why write at all?
The answer to me is my intimate moments, the fearful and joyful ones that touch me with the barest of words while remaining true to the origins of language. I’ve sought poetry when my children were born, when a friend married, for a eulogy when a family member or a friend died. I wrote poetry to help me stay sane during my darkest moments. I’ve read numerous poems looking for the perfect one for my wedding vows for my second marriage. It’s something most of us have done at some point in our lives. Poetry thrives in those privileged moments. It gives meaning to those jumbled emotions running rampant in our minds. “There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it” Gustave Flaubert
Poetry can’t be generalized or even reduced it to a mere trend because it satisfies an essential need. Emily Dickinson says, “If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” Robert Frost says, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”
Poetry is emotion. If you consider some of the works written by Thoreau, Emerson, Wordsworth, Hass, Whitman, Bukowski, Rash, Frost, Dickinson, Plath, Sexton, Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Dylan poetry is a powerful expression in times of celebration and crisis that give people a way to live in their lives by filling in the words we need, in just the right moment. You could ask a poet to explain his poem but you would lose the joy of the discovery and lose sight of the meaning. Charles Bukowski sums it well “Poetry is what happens when nothing else can.”
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
“The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
― Robert Frost
As you enter this new year, read a poem or write one to heal the wounds inflicted by reason as Novalis suggests. “Poetry heals the wounds inflicted by reason.”
Now that I am older, I realize only I can write the page before life ends and I will have lost my chance to engage. Happy New Year to you and yours. Celebrate a poet in 2017!