Poetry As the Mechanism For Seeing Into the Life of Things.
In all of my previous columns I have written about how poetry works, the role of language, mechanics, and how to start our own internalized fire for poetry. I’ve written about poetry as a way to witness current events or to watch nature. What do I mean by this topic? In my unfolding explanation down this page, I attempt not to be redundant, but to offer some new/different sight lines using poetry.
How does poetry work to see the necessary points of life… and death? I submit that the first work poetry has to do here is get our attention. This is best done by a powerful first line, especially if the poem is short. Say, ten lines, more or less. William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” is only eight lines containing sixteen words. But that first line, “so much depends,” is a novel. This line is so expansive that it is amazing that it comes back to focus on the red wheelbarrow. That’s how attention works.
Poetry asks us to move in all directions. Some critics would say poetry requires us to move. Either way the key is observation. We may see lots of things and we may need to make decisions about what to keep and what to discard. For example, you witness a bluebird singing and you see a nice-looking car drive by. That decision of what to keep and write about is likely pretty easy. But what if you witness an accident and you witness someone struggling with groceries. In that case you may want to keep both as writing potential. Observation is about choices.
Poetry is also about reaction times. I hinted at that above. How we may react quickly to an event, though the poem may take much longer to come together. We react, poetry reflects. The caveat to this, however, is speed. Today’s electronic/digital age requires information to be sent at nanosecond speeds and read about as fast. There does not seem to be time to absorb the information and even to contemplate it. Poetry does not fit well with nanosecond speeds so this is why it could become a casualty. Spoken word poetry is one way to keep up as I see and hear young poets recite poetry in the fashion of hip-hop or rap.
Maybe poetry can be both things: Modern quick speed and slow thoughtful pacing. The quick one can relay immediate witness and the slower pace can provide perspective and documentary.
Lastly, poetry’s vision can bring us all into solidarity… in the world… in all life.