The average American doesn’t give a rat’s ass about poetry.
I see it all the time. People who ask me what I do get glazed eyes if I say I write poetry. Sometimes they say, “So, you don’t work, then?” Since poetry is not the only thing I do, my standard answer to the “What do you do?” question is, “It depends on the day.” But the way people change the subject if I dare to talk about poetry – or any writing that doesn’t involve a popular novel ready to be made into a blockbuster movie – constantly reminds me that I think about the world around me in a different way than most.
I can see poetry everywhere. Can’t you? It’s there in all the cliched images that kids write about when they have a poetry assignment to complete for school: sunsets, first kisses, fresh snow, baby animals, Mother’s Day, loneliness, memories of Grandpa, the angst of a first break-up. It’s there in the breath between opening my eyes in the morning and hearing someone in my family move out of bed. Poetry is present in all the silly Hallmark cards that are now heralding Valentine’s Day (which reminds me I’d rather write my own). I see poetry in the way my daughter smiles over a text message, how my dog sticks her nose in my face on Sunday morning, the smell of onions sauteed in butter and oil, the feel of hot water on my skin when the outside temperature is below zero, the way afternoon sun through the living room window illuminates the blue vase on the bookshelf, and the way dust settles on the silver picture frame that holds an image of my husband as a baby. And I see it in all the mundane things that go with having a life: washing dishes, grocery shopping, carpooling, walking the dog, returning phone calls, making appointments.
Poetry is visible when we are present in the world.
I don’t think this means that most people aren’t present. I think it does mean that the way many of us have been taught about poetry is wrong. Too often, poetry is seen either as a stuffy thing that doesn’t have anything to do with real life (if one is forced to memorize old sonnets or must dig through metaphors to get to that which makes sense), or something that gets spewed by people who are full of their own angst (and which results in some really awful verse). It’s sometimes considered an elitist thing that real people with real jobs don’t have time for.
Here’s a thought. Let’s teach kids first that poetry is a conversation with the world, an opportunity to make an image that holds our attention visible to another person.
And, maybe those of us who write poetry could tell those who ask what we do that we have conversations with the world. Among other things. Hmm.
DO A KIND THING
Have you heard of the Zen Army? Following Gandhi’s directive to be the change you wish to see in the world, the Zen Army is a group of volunteers who get off their butts, get out there, and help whoever needs help. If you join the Zen Army online (go to http://www.zenarmy.org/), you will be connected with volunteer opportunities in your area. It won’t cost you money, only time.