Friday, February 25, 2011

The Importance of Poetry

It's finally here! The long awaited post on the importance of poetry. I know, I know. You've all been sitting in front of your computers hitting refresh, praying that this post finally pops up! Wait no longer, poets! It's here!

So, let's get right to it. Is poetry dead? How many times have you heard someone say they just don't "get" poetry. How many times have you said it yourself? For most of us, poetry is something we're made to study in college. Something we struggle to wrap our minds around. Once the class is over, we gladly leave it behind. Until I discovered Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (LOVE IT!!!), I was among the poetry scoffers. But then I read,

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Wow. Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. The line is beautiful in its simplicity & the truth it contains. Whitman is saying: We are one. But because he says it so beautifully, it stays with you. It has an emotional impact. The best poetry is read with the heart as well as the mind.

Good poetry takes your breath away. It makes you feel something. It connects you with another person--even if it's only for the moment you spend reading her words on the page. We need this connection. We're starved for it today. Even with Facebook, blogs, email, and everything else we're more disconnected than ever.

Poetry has power because of its ability to connect with someone on a deeper level. Poets spend time (a lot of time) pondering issues that impact all of us. Love. Death. All the biggees. Little things too. Have you read Mary Oliver? She finds joy in everything around her.

I don't know about you, but I need that joy. I crave it. It feeds my soul in a way nothing else does. As a society, I think we've neglected our souls for too long. I don't mean this in a churchy way. I mean that we have become so caught up in our fast paced, gotta cram everything in world that we've lost a bit of what it means to be human. Poetry, good poetry, reminds us. It makes us stop for a few seconds and embrace our better selves.

Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I forget that the world can be beautiful. Living with Crohn's disease and a disabled daughter can make me short-sighted. When my body hurts, or I have another surgery, or Grace is just being Grace (if you know her, you know what I mean!) it's easy to forget that the world is an amazing, beautiful--and yes, terrible--place. Poetry helps me remember.

If you are a writer, you love words. You love language. Sometimes you fall in love with a well-turned phrase and repeat it to yourself throughout the day. This is poetry.

A friend of mine said that poets mirror our society. If so, what does it mean that so few of us read or write poetry? Are we living an unexamined life? Are we so caught up in the turmoil around us that we're starving our souls? Could this account for the bitterness that infuses our public debates?

Possibly. What if we took Whitman's words to heart? What if we really believed that, "every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you"? Would we be so quick to speak harshly to each other?

I don't think so.

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