Last spring I went to Barnes and Noble to buy a few self-help books that were recommended to me. I came home with three poetry books instead.
I remember standing in the measly poetry section of the bookstore that day. It consisted of one little column of shelves–a slowly sinking island in a vast and verbose sea of prose. What has happened to this lost genre? I wondered why it had become such an outcast.
Poetry came into my life a bit haphazardly. I went into my MFA thinking I would focus on creative nonfiction. Then I took a poetry workshop to meet a requirement and I fell in love. Poetry was not what I thought it was. It was not a Hallmark card. It wasn’t flowery language. It wasn’t (exclusively) Shelley and Keats and struggling through my senior year of British Lit. It wasn’t predictable rhyme schemes and abstract language. It was so much more than all of that. It was tangible, gritty, simple, and musical. It was dense, the real heart of things.
In contemporary poetry, I found freedom. I found a place where I could let my mind wander and embrace the moment. I discovered that profound truths can be expressed concisely. I found my senses. I found that images are a language of their own. This was a place where rules could be broken and the breaking was invited.
Perhaps, for me, the allure of poetry lies in its stark contrast to the current culture. Poetry is okay with unanswered questions and gray areas. It’s fine with being open to interpretation and misunderstood. And in this place, I find rest. I find help that no self-help book can offer me. I find room to move around, to be quiet and listen and let life unfold naturally, organically. I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s words:
“In the act of writing the poem, I am obedient, and submissive. Insofar as one can, I put aside ego and vanity, and even intention. I listen. What I hear is almost a voice, almost a language. It is a second ocean, rising, singing into one’s ear, or deep inside the ears, whispering in the recesses where one is less oneself than a part of some single indivisible community.”
Obedience. Submission. Listening. Community. Are these qualities dwindling down like the poetry section of the bookstore? I find that they are essential to a meaningful life.
We experience so many deaths and rebirths throughout a lifetime. Though poetry seems like a dying art, I am aware that art is constantly being reinvented, shifting and adapting along with the rest of the world. I believe we will always have art with us. Innate to the human spirit is an unquenchable hunger to create. Despite the sparse collection of poetry at my local library and bookstore, I believe this art form will press on. It may not be the most popular genre, but somehow, that seems fitting, too.
What art form/genre are you drawn to and why? Is it a “dying art?” How has it changed over time?
[French Press Saturday]