An odd part of being a written-word poet is that of working in a medium that is personally compelling but generally regarded with the benign smile given to antiques. As if poetry were a relic of skill alongside making brooches out of locks of hair — ever so popular in Victorian times, but no relevance today now that we have streaming entertainment.
And I sympathize. If poetry were needed, were embedded in our psyches, wouldn’t people still interact with it? Music is woven as deeply into our days as when we had to do all the singing. Storytelling is everywhere, even if the topics aren’t always to your taste. Even glass blowing, crocheting and building furniture by hand return to us cyclically, anchored in their physicality and the personal connection to beauty that physicality brings.
This antique, this backwater of written poetry. Why bring it back?
A friend of mine once referred to it as “the heart in other words.” I have no idea if that was original to him, though he did put it onto the back of a jacket for me. Wallace Stevens referred to the poet as someone with an “innocent eye,” a person who strips learning, associations, common wisdom, and all aside to see or experience each element as if she had never experienced it before.
What a poem can do is to take something you think you’ve always known, have you pause, and say, “OH. That was there all along, and I never noticed. I’m glad I’ve noticed now.”
The catch here is that experiences of beauty and recognition are as individual as the people involved. It’s conundrum of art across any medium: persistence in connecting with works will eventually get you to a connection, but most people aren’t persistent. One or two experiences, and the medium is done for — I hate painting; poetry is boring.
Are we poets, then, doomed? Since most people’s exposure to poems occurs in school, inside the structures of literary criticism, will all but the subtle few forever remember poetry the way I remember earthworms: gutted, pinned open, with the intestine rolled onto the tray?
What would get people to persist?