“for meaning beyond this world”

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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.

I’m currently reading 100 poetry books in 12-ish months, and in the process I encountered Bianca Lynne Spriggs (The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor), who describes her poems as

“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.

The first 25 poetry books read for my 100-book reading 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:

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?


  1. I have a poem called “They Are Not Regenerating: Zombie Stripper Clones” in my last book, Field Guide to the End of the World. And even more coincidentally, a little boy who lived down the street from me, that I drove to Sunday School as a high school student, wrote a book called “Zombie Haiku.” Weird!

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