Why poetry, Blake?
I have written enough short stories for a collection (you might see this in the next few years 😊), I have written a novella (expect this relatively soon), and I have written a historical novel (this is not quite ready, but close).
Why would the first thing I publish be a collection of poems, when poetry is such an obscure and oft neglected art?
While it is true that poetry is sometimes an ignored or even avoided art, I think this is, at least partly, for a couple of good, honest reasons.
First, poetry can come off fancy or uppity, and that can be a major irritant for readers. No one wants to be talked down to. Sometimes poets can seem like wannabe philosophers or know-it-alls, and ain’t nobody got time for that.
My pops called unnecessary garnishments “frilly-nillies” and poets sometimes run the risk of putting a few too many of these in their poems.
I will say for my part, this disgust with put-ons is ingrained in my psyche. Nevertheless, if a few “too cute” lines slipped through in my collection, I apologize.
The second reason people sometimes turn from poetry is because it can seem too mysterious. People want to enjoy beauty, sure, but they also want to comprehend what they are reading. For me, this was a turn off for a long while. It made me feel dumb.
I will confess right here and now that I read poems every day, and frequently, don’t understand all that I read. So, this is the dilemma for the poet and the reader.
Ted Kooser, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, and just a tremendous poet, wrote a guide for beginning poets called The Poetry Home Repair Manual. If you have a desire to write poetry that is accessible, I highly recommend. In it, he offers innumerable critiques and lessons that are invaluable.
He observes –
“We’ve become accustomed to being confronted by poems that confuse, baffle, embarrass and intimidate us, and for a lot of people, reading poetry is a dreadful experience, that is, an experience full of dread.”
I’ve tried to make my poems good houseguests for you (Kooser’s analogy), and I hope they will warm the home of your heart.
Later, Kooser offers the following phrase, which for me, is the answer to your question about why I’d publish poetry-
“a poem is a way of assembling a bit of order amid chaos.”
This is the reason my poems have value for me, and hopefully, for you too.
I am a history teacher, so I will not say that our time is the worst, or most chaotic. I’ve written some things in previous posts to suggest that there have been other, perhaps worse, eras.
Yet, we are all going through nearly daily upheavals, and some of them (related to the massive development of social media tech, gaming, and entertainment) are new to the world.
I have more access to news of the entire world than ever before, but this tends to bring more uncertainty and anxiety.
Social media has us in a constant battle for the peace of our souls. We can incessantly compare ourselves with others, and this can be damaging, whether by infecting us with false pride or debilitating depression.
We are tempted to project onto others, to group them and name them, reduce them to tribes of “ally” or “other.”
It gets harder and harder for us to be patient with those we disagree with, to treat them as children of God, and to listen to their deep fear and uncertainty with empathy, to show them love.
We are exposed to an onslaught of quips and memes about self-awareness via social media feeds (mine, at least). Yet, I suspect most of us wrestle with our souls still, not only with great difficultly, but with increasing weariness.
We are living “amid chaos.”
I carry poems with me everywhere I go. Not mine. I carry the writings of other poets, because in them I’ve found someone, a human brother or sister who is actively using language to wrangle hope, stability and even joy out of sorrow and oblivion.
King David committed many villainous crimes in his day. He also had many victories, both as a political entity and as a human being. He imperfectly loved and sometimes selfishly destroyed. He was obstinate, and repentant. A real person, complex in every way, just as we are.
The Sermon on the Mount aside, the most read scriptures in the Bible are likely the Psalms. There, David tried to assemble a “bit of order amid chaos.”
I am so grateful for his willingness to sit in his pain and despair, in his remorse and doubt, in his elation and hope, with spiritual and intellectual diligence. He paid attention, and used the inadequate tool of words to try and find an anchor, and the produce of those efforts has been a lifeline for so many, for thousands of years.
Perhaps people will be reading my poems in a thousand years 😊 haha!
Well, I hope you will buy my collection, and carry my poems with you, and read them, enjoy them, and may they give you a sense of camaraderie in this life, a sense that someone else has been trudging through, trying to find a way to believe, to press on.
Toward the end of my poem “The Throbbing Hypnotism,” I have written the following lines, which describe the poet, among other faithful wanderers –
“A laborer climbs the ladder and weeps, presses ear to beam, knocks hammer along frame, searching for the wound. She has vigilance, and a steady gaze, and so she can heal.”
I believe we all need poetry, desperately, and so I’ve made this offering.
I hope you’ll purchase Leviathan, and I pray it will bless you.
"Examine all things; hold on to the good."
-Saint Paul the Apostle