Dear lovely reader,
Poetry is language in its purest art form. I’ve heard other people use the same analogy – if a short story is a snapshot, a novel a movie, then a poem is a painting. Each brush stroke an act of artistry. And yet, even among my writer and reader friends, I know only a few who seek out poetry.
I’m not sure why there is so much resistance. I think people are intimidated by it, or bored. They think of the sing-songy rhymes they had to memorize as a child, or they come across modern poems that are so obscure and inaccessible that they are like meaningless abstract paintings. Randomly choosing a poem as a representation of “poetry” is like pulling a book off the “C” shelf in a bookstore and thinking if you don’t like it, you don’t like fiction. You could end up with a Clive Cussler, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Willa Cather, or Orson Scott Card. What are the odds you are going to love whichever one you pick?
But I wish writers in particular would read more poetry, because I think it has the potential to seep into the brain and influence the way we put our words together. Most of today’s fiction lacks poetry of language. I read dozens of novels ever year, but I’m lucky if one of those has this kind of attention to the rhythm, sound, and surprising potential of each word. The Green Age of Asher Witherow by M. Allen Cunningham rings with the poetic voice I long for, as does Tinkers by Paul Harding. But these lyrical novels are few and far between.
When I’m struggling with my own fiction writing, I often read poetry. It fills me with such admiration and inspiration.
Here are a couple of examples.
They shut me up in Prose –
As when a little Girl
They put me in the Closet –
Because they liked me “still” –
Still! Could themselves have peeped –
And seen my brain – go round –
They might as wise have lodged a Bird
For Treason – in the pound …
— Emily Dickinson
And from one of my favorite modern poets:
Tibet is rock and mineral
hard sparseness polished
by stark wind
buffeted by bright sunlight
carried as talisman
and pain …
— Julie LeMay (also known as my mom)
And from Olena Kalytiak Davis, another of my favorite modern poets:
Your thoughts have hung themselves from nails
The sky has stopped
offering you reasons to live and your heart is the rock
you threw through each window
of what’s deserted you, so you turn
to the burnt out building inside you: scaffolding
overhead, the fallen beams,
the unsound framework …
When I read these lines out loud, I hear the music of the words and feel their rhythm like a bass beat against my heart. It’s the magic of language, and I never tire of it.