Please don’t tell me you don’t like poetry. May be there’s some poetry you absolutely hate—that would be a matter of taste. But I know too many people who claim they just don’t “get” it. Period. Or they think it’s a highbrow attempt to say something in a flowery way that could be much better said plainly. But stop for a moment and consider what it’s like sometimes just trying to get through a day. It is so easy to walk around with your head down, not seeing or hearing what’s really going on around you. Poetry is one way of calling people out of that—it is an attempt to see, hear, capture, share. It is word music, and the words to the music.
Over and over I discover that the things I see (or don’t see) reveal a lot about what is swirling around in my head, my heart, and my life. There was one autumn—during my first year of graduate school— that I was shocked to discover I hadn’t noticed the leaves changing color. I had been too self-absorbed to pay attention and had almost missed one of my favorite times of the year. The redbuds blooming in our yard last spring, though—I don’t think I will ever forget those. The world was coming to life all around me while my grandmother was dying. Her quiet joy, her physical deterioration, and her family’s sorrow at saying goodbye against the backdrop of new life all around us seemed fitting and hopeful. I don’t want to ever lose sight of the beauty that shone through in that painful experience.
Some experiences and insights stand up and demand to be shared. So how do you share things like that? When I was in fourth grade, I loved Show-and-Tell. I don’t remember bringing anything to show, but I distinctly remember trying to share things that had happened to me—things that made me laugh or think, tiny glimpses of life with my pet gerbils, my sister, my parents. But I was terrible at sharing. These special flashes of light in my life didn’t translate very well, and I remember looking around at my classmates’ faces expecting them to see what I saw, and discovering that their faces were completely blank. There should have been a lone cricket chirping to augment the silence.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that these special moments and feelings, along with the desire to share them, were the basis for art. Not to say that everything I ever wanted to share would necessarily be uplifting and edifying to my fourth grade class or anybody else, mind you. But that desire to capture a moment, a thought, a flash of light—to hold it in a form that would allow others to see what I saw—that was the same desire that creates poetry, music, works of art. How fitting that the next year, my fifth grade teacher taught us how to write haiku. Suddenly I had a form on which to display the treasures rattling around in my head. Maybe there was a way to solidify those thoughts! I wrote lots of poetry that year—about loneliness, and wild horses, and seeing my reflection in sparkling streams. I copied things I thought poems were supposed to be about, and I was passionate about it, and I’m sure none of it was terribly interesting to anyone else. But I had a new tool for communication, and that was huge.
I’m probably trying to capture too much here. The world is full of voices who have seen something they want to share with others. Have you heard any of them? It’s disturbing to hear people say they don’t understand a particular form of communication—poetry or classical music, for instance—and then use that as a reason for never listening. What if, even if you never understood an ounce of it before today, you caught a flash of light out of the corner of your eye? Would you turn towards it and try listening? The person behind that poem, or sculpture, or piece of music, is trying to tell you something.