I dreamed last night I was a scientist studying zombies. My fellow scientists and I weren’t afraid of the zombies themselves and only slightly concerned about an infection/virus they were carrying.
Strangely, I didn’t see a single zombie in the dream. I spent the entire time writing with pencil on a clipboard, documenting each zombie’s identification code and percentages that seemed to indicate the illness they had was getting worse.
No one talked about what it all meant for them or for us.
Now, poetry? Poetry talks about that shit. All. Day. Long.
And that’s why people read poetry. We’re looking for meaning.
Current U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo says the current political/cultural moment is bringing that into focus:
“Audiences for poetry are growing because of the turmoil in our country–political shifts, climate shifts. When there’s uncertainty, when you’re looking for meaning beyond this world–that takes people to poetry. We need something to counter the hate speech, the divisiveness, and it’s possible with poetry.”TIME magazine interview, August 2019
And (also in that TIME interview), she explains:
“It’s about learning to listen, much like in music. You can train your ears to history. You can train your ears to the earth. You can train your ears to the wind. It’s important to listen and then to study the world, like astronomy or geology or the names of birds.”
To listen. Poetry teaches us how.
To study. Poetry helps us know.
“years of accumulated internalized urgency to know.””
I love her use of the word urgency. That’s something else poetry teaches us: both in form and substance, as much as we try to manipulate time, we ultimately know we have none to waste.
Yesterday, I completed reading notes for the 25th book in my 100-book project.
In addition to helping me re-learn how to sit with my feelings and get back in touch with what it is I love about writing poetry, reading that many books in three months reminded me how good poems are at teaching us about our world. Its beauty. Its violence. Possibility. Disappointment. Affection. Absence. Abundance.
Here are a few highlights of what the poetry I’ve read so far teaches us:
- about grief and loss;
- about race, class and imbalances of power;
- about challenging the status quo;
- about the horrors humans are capable of inflicting on one another;
- that wherever you go there you are;
- that our own stories have value;
- that the places we live are characters in those stories;
- how capitalism can fail to deliver;
- how much tenderness there can be in our day-to-day lives;
- how complicated forgiveness is;
- how culture may shape us;
- how women experience pregnancy and childbirth;
- how humor belies our sadness; and
- what war does to families and communities.
That’s just a sampling. The list of what my recent reading has taught me is MUCH longer than that, and certainly The Big List of what poetry teaches us is nearly endless.
And I am so excited to see what it will show me next.
I have made note, however, of something lacking: the first 25 books in this reading project were really light on zombies. Isn’t anyone writing zombie poems?