I never considered myself to be a poet, but a chance encounter wth a poem I scribbled years ago revealed a future that a decade later is now my present. Poetry was the medium I needed at that moment to preserve something that would be meangingful only after I matured another 10 years. So, why am I not a poet? What is our relationship with poetry, anyway?
The great poet Maya Angelou has been quoted as saying, and I paraphrase, we rarely remember what people do, but always remember how they made us feel.
Poetry does much the same thing. The songs we cherish and sing by heart: words by poets. Princess Diana’s funeral: Elton John’s haunting melody, but his words – ‘Goodbye, English Rose,’ haunt us more, much more powerful than ‘Goodbye, Princess Diana.’ Think of John MacCrae and his vision of Flanders Fields. We all have our favourite or inspoirational poems, whether we realize it daily or not.
And the feeling is not always good.
Among my favourite poems – and it feels strange to use the word favourite – is Alden Nowlan’s The Bull Moose. Haunting and gruesome is how I would describe it, the story of the senseless torture and death of an animal at the hands of hunters. Many describe it as an analogy of the crucifixion of Christ.
Whatever the interpretation, it is an unmistakeable reminder of the human capacity for darkness, something we cannot afford to forget. Because of the vision it took to write it, the skill it took to narrow the message to an arrow that has pierced my memory since childhood, and the courage it takes me to read it even today, I list this as a favourite, even though I find it difficult to think of it, let alone read. Things that are good for you are not always pleasant, but there is a sense of satisfaction in partaking of them. It is for our own good.
But in the commercial world poetry is too easily dismissed. Its message can require a bit of peeling and simmering in a society that increasingly cooks by opening a can and pushing the start button. Its form is so laden with meaning that it can say in 10 words what it may take us 1000 words to share, and that can reduce its credibility in a society that values quantity over quality, where more is more, and less is just one letter away from lose. Those who know of the challenge shy away, as do those who show it little respect.
A special few hear the call and pursue the craft, putting in hours to play with a single word, but elevating our vision as a result.
A little tidbit about poetry, from BookRiot, a forum and news site for all things books:
Poetry makes up less than 1% of print sales in the United States, but has held steady in the past five years and posted increases in the past two years.
I wrote poetry in school as did most of us, when pushed by teachers to explore what they knew we would value later in life, butthat we just couldn’t see at the time. By high school, my poetic tomes had been reduced to contests between us bratty kids on variations of There Once Was A Man From Venus. Or Nantucket. Or … You get the idea. The one saving grace of this rather colorful time of life was that writing was still fun, and that element should always be present, or at least no more than an arms reach away.
But the last poetry I wrote, I did in the midst of an overwhelming life change.
Poetry suddenly became for me a funnel, providing a focus to channel the swirl of thoughts and energy, dark and light, into images, and then into words. These words were written for me, then put away and forgotten. In the years following, I would continue unchanged on my track of writing nonfiction for hire, until a few years ago the siren call of creative non-fiction returned, bringing with it a chorus of desire to explore fiction.
Recently I uncovered the poems I had written long ago. Their message held a surprise. They foretold the writing of the book series in which I am now immersed. Those few words, so long forgotten, held fast, and connected two very important chapters in my life.
I’ll share one with you now.
Western Sky on the East River
We share a Hollywood story in the comfort of upholstery and popcorn
Then we drive to nature’s screen by the riverbank
Cocooned in new car smell and promise
For the greatest show on Earth
We curl up, absorbed in the other as the sun slips away.
The river, now dark, still sings as sweetly.
Wise with years of constant toil,
brimming with news to share
We are born filled to our banks with innocence, trust, wonder
Made to flow as freely as time
Yet our early gifts are rules, fears, orders
And our flow slowly trickles away
Love is the key that gently but firmly
Turns back the clock
To the age of innocence
Releasing the optimism, the courage, the will to stretch for the highest of dreams
Where is this love?
Ask the river. It knows.
We turn to the sunset
And then to the other
Tracing with eyes our silhouettes
Outline of black and a shimmer of colour, outside the lines, just a little.
A gift of the river. It knows.
For like love, it is always here, always flowing.
Beauty, for no cost but a pause, a gaze, an ear.
It knows. Just ask.
My book series is a Nova Scotia love story, about one man’s search for love. His story takes him across North America and Asia, but always back to Nova Scotia, like the tide, seeking ultimately the love that will unlock his age of innocence, and bring him out of the darkness so he can trust, love and again absorb the beauty of the world.
Poetry for me provided the forum to capture, retain, and process my early ideas when, firmly in nonfiction, I had little capacity to process them otherwise. And as it turns out, the unleashing of words was also prophetic … I didn’t know I would go on to write a book series, and be a publisher …
But the poem, like the river, did.
What could poetry do for you? What has it done for you? I’d love to hear your story.
Thanks for reading, and keep writing.
Jennifer Hatt is author of the Finding Maria series
and a partner in Marechal Media Inc.