I believe in poetry. I believe in words and meters and hope and pain. I believe in the crafting of the shadows and light of the soul put down on paper to sing out in all the strange ways in which the human heart forms communication. Humans do not dream in sentences with perfect structure and syntax. Humans do not compose the sonatas of their life with notes that have been heard before and words that are already in the dictionary.
Poetry is a landscape of the familiar and unfamiliar. Poetry is a way to explain what we know and a way to create the beginning of a map of what we don’t know, but wish to know. Poetry is the way our literal, word using, linear thinking civilization finds a way to break free and seek truth.
All other art forms, are rooted in abstraction. Poetry is the closest link to what the common guy does, he/she talks, listens to talking, and reads. Poetry takes what is our most common form of communication, turning it into art and expression.
I write poetry. I help children learn about poetry and write their own poems.
I write poetry. I never call myself a poet. Poets are too important.
When I was living out the passion and splendor of the last years of my holy-never-to-come-again twenties in the Lower East Side of New York, I hung out in a poetry scene at Life Café on the corner of Avenue B and 10th Street. It was a veterans-on-pensions holding court with phrases like, “The day I got back from Nam, I couldn’t believe that Hendrix was dead,” junkies sitting next to super models moving into newly-condoed ghetto buildings, gentrification the topic of many a rant, squatters, painters, sculptors, guitar players, Puerto Ricans trying to hold on to this wave overtaking their blocks, old Polish people, park bench beds for the homeless, all that was left of the Beats, Rastas, Punks and hippies, the rich wishing to be poor, the poor wishing to be rich, the old, young, and lots of poetry to be made of the poetry being lived type of scene.
An older poet told me I’d have to give up dancing. I could be a good poet, if I’d devote my life to it. Dancing seemed safer. All these older street poets whose wings I was fledging under, were all drinkers or ex-addicts. I didn’t want to wear black to bed and do heroin to find my voice. These brilliant, moving writers had barely published. I might spend the years ahead struggling as a choreographer and modern dancer, not exactly a booming market, but I’d have to stay healthy. I’d be with others dancing in a studio every day, not sequestered in a garret with my pen, a half drunk bottle of whiskey and all my words pressing down, fighting for release.
It never was a choice. Writing had saved my life, this time around. Since a child, abandoned and abused, writing poetry and reading poetry had, somehow, anchored me. Writing had taught me who I was. But dancing… dancing had given me my life. Dancing brought me to that longed for tribal place, as old as humanity. Dancing had connected me to the earth and the ancestors. Words were not enough for me. This writing thing was new for humans. Dancing came from the animals and primeval forests and untouched water sources deep in the Andes. Dancing had happened first. For some reason I needed something older than old to reassure me there was a place in this human living beyond the manicured lawns of suburbia, the cement of city streets and the rural separations only conquered by driving everywhere in a car.
I would write poetry. I would read poetry. But, I could not be a poet. Poets were too important. It was a great burden to be a poet. Back in my late twenties I proclaimed poets to be the moral barometer of their cultural era. Poets are the universal, timeless recorders of life on earth. I read poetry. I write poetry. I help children read and write poetry. I believe in poetry, but I dare not call myself a poet.
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