“I write poems, and I am a poem.” — Vanessa German
Everybody is a poem waiting to happen, even those of us who flinch at the word “poetry,” perhaps those of us especially, because at some point in our upbringing or education we were taught that poetry is only for the special, or the weird, not for us. Poets are either safely dead or dangerously alive, and either way, you’d best give them a wide berth because poetry stains, like blood and chocolate, and good luck washing it off of you once it’s had a chance to seep in.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Scared? Don’t be. You are a poem. You may never put pen to paper in all your born days, but your life is a poem. Some people just take it one step further and put themselves (and other people) on paper, so the rest of us can step back from our own perspectives and see the world around us in a new way. Exploring poetry is simply another way of exploring your world.
If you do not like poetry, I strongly suspect is simply means that you have not yet found your poet. Or maybe it’s just one poem, your poem, buried somewhere in the stacks or lost in the tangled web of the internet (Indra net?). Does the possibility disturb you? Excite you? Send you back to bed with the covers safely pulled up over your head?
Good. That means you’re getting somewhere. Treat reading poetry like speed-dating: flirt shamelessly, experiment prodigiously. Walk away from whatever doesn’t resnoate with you, but be willing to try anything at least once. Allow your eyes to be seduced, romanced. Extend the same courtesy to your ears.
Consider the possibility that your poem hasn’t made it to the library yet. Maybe your poet, your poem, are out there in your city, the next county, half a world away. Go to readings. Introduce yourself to the poets you meet at readings and ask them what they’re reading these days. Listen to podcasts. Talk to bookstore owners and librarians and random people reading poetry in coffee shops. Hunt for your poet, your poem, as if it were a golden ticket, because it is.
If you still doubt me, I can only shake my head and retreat back into the dumbstruck wonder of my own experience. I am not a poet, and yet, when I surround myself with poets, and dive into their work, my own writing gains something it would not otherwise have had. Poets have taught me that hate ain’t sexy*, that the devil is in the details, that children’s stories are secretly for grownups, that incremental repetition can be an effective technique for making your point. Poetry reminds me that, no matter how much I have learned, there is so much more to learn. It’s the most real thing there is, poetry, and it’s yours. Free. For the taking.
also a poem
*This line was uttered by the aforementioned Vanessa German, during a reading here at the Carnegie Library. At the time she read the work she called it “Jorge,” and it’s either just never been recorded and posted anywhere, or I simply can’t find it. It’s my favorite poem that apparently only exists in my head.