Why Poetry? Why Not?

“What if there were no poetry?  What if all life were prose?
Some people wouldn’t mind. One friend told me her son didn’t know how to do imaginative play. He lined up his action figures and then shrugged and walked away.  He didn’t know what else to do.  Poetry gives you an idea of what to do, or at least the idea that something more can be done.” 
Megan Willome, “The Joy of Poetry” p. 138

     When I mention to people that I’m reading a book of poetry the response is often, “I’m not into poetry. I just don’t get it.”
     If I tell them I WRITE poetry, they look at me as if I said I ate blue crayons for breakfast and quickly change the subject.
     I just finished reading Megan Willome’s user-friendly volume “The Joy of Poetry” (TSPoetry Press) and I can say with confidence—this book introduces poetry in a way that will make you swear off eating crayons forever—and might entice you towards a richer life of reading what you’ve been missing all this time.
     The next to last chapter is my favorite, aptly titled, “Why Poetry?”
     Willome illuminates the answers to this question beautifully. Here are the reasons that spoke to me (in no particular order):

          1)    Why poetry? For Kinship—when a writer shines a light on something that speaks to you, there is a connection, an ‘aha! I get that’ feeling.  Poets, in their succinct style, pack a lot of meaning into fewer words; many of those words go straight to our heart.

Illustration: Willome weaves the story of her mother’s very long bout with cancer and the last years of her life struggling with the disease. Megan and Merry Nell’s relationship was not all sweetness and light during this time; I can relate. My own mother died of cancer very young (55, I was only 33) and we also had some rough edges in the way we related to each other in her last few years.

Two lines in Megan’s poem ‘Blue Moon’ are underlined and circled in my book:
“we talk as only mothers and daughters can—
Speech as rocky as the lunar surface.”

There’s a kinship woven into those words.

           2)    Why poetry? For Delight—Certainly you’ve read Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” or something by Shel Silverstein? These delight in their nonsensicality (yes, I made that up).  Willome mentions a yoga class and a discovery of the delight of  ‘poetry’ in her instructor’s directions as she uses metaphors to illustrate different poses. There are so many poems I’ve read that just plain leave me smiling—they’re accessible, readable, relatable, beautiful. Poems can delight us in simple ways.

Illustration: My Seattle friend Jennifer Wagner (who blogs at Poet Laundry) posted these lines the other day—my heart soared right along with the words:

Yes, little one,

there are mountains.

And storms.

And rain.


But, oh, the

berries,

nectar,

sky.
© 2016 Jennifer Wagner


3         3 )    Why poetry? For its limitations—truly. Boundaries are a good thing. Willome states, “Whether a poem is following a form or whether it’s expressing an idea or a story in a condensed format, its narrowness gives breadth.” I am more of a free verse writer when it comes to poetry; disdaining ‘form’ as too constricting. But as anyone knows who has played a sport, rules provide freedom (and sometimes a win.) Sometimes being confined with form forces better words to the surface. (Psalm 16:6 comes to mind about boundaries).

Illustration:  Last Fall I co-lead a writer’s workshop with my friend Kimberlee who helped us all get over our poemic fears by modeling for us two particular forms; one of them, the pantoum. 

     In a pantoum, lines repeat in a distinct pattern, made easier for us by a little worksheet (thank you, Kimberlee!)  The task was a little intimidating, but we all put our hearts into it. The results were lovely and empowering. She had copied and cut out hundreds of words to assist us in the process.

Here’s my pantoum, inspired by leading worship

Water Carriers*

inside, two friends bend hearts towards God
stops and starts, voices raised, a daring duo
strums and strings bring songs alive
while the Holy Spirit sings His song over you

stops and starts, voices raised, a daring duo

carrying water for thirsty souls
while the Holy Spirit sings His song through you
deep channels, delivering life via verse and tone

carrying water for thirsty souls

this, the joy of completing His song
channeling life via verse and voice and tone
inside, two friends bend hearts toward God

     4) Why poetry? You might as well ask, ‘why chocolate?’
Willome’s response begs the question–in other words, why seek joy, why dance a jig, why smile? or…
     “Why drive along a country road on a sunny day with the windows down and the music up?  Why green tea with fresh mint from the farmer’s market? Why dogs?”
     Why, indeed. Willome sums up her treatise well.
     “Why poetry? For nothing. Here’s a secret: poetry is useless. So are a lot of wonderful things… We don’t need poetry–which is exactly why we need it.”

~~~~~~~
“The Joy of Poetry” is available on Amazon and via TSPoetry Press
*a poem with the same title, written at the same time is on my poetry blog this week

15 thoughts on “Why Poetry? Why Not?

  1. Nancy, I like your descriptor, “thought explosions created with just a few words.” Yes, the presence of God's creative spirit was rich that afternoon, soaking in poetry. Indeed. So glad you were there!

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  2. Poetry may be useless, but I hate to think of a world without it! How sad to live in a world without thought explosions created with just a few words. (Jennifer Wagner's “Soar” is a perfect example.) How bland to live in a world where words are never woven together in surprising ways–like your pantoum. (I'll always remember the electric atmosphere of the Guild Library as a dozen women stretched their writing-wings and produced astounding poetry–with your inspiration and Kimberlee's direction!)

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  3. I think pantoums are a great form for the form-challenged because you don't have to rhyme–only repeat.

    Thanks so much for this, Jody! And I'm so happy you included two poems, one from a friend and one of your own. This book shouldn't be an end but a beginning, and you showed the way right here.

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