It’s April, it’s National Poetry Month, but here’s what I’d suggest — that we have poetry year or poetry century or poetry millennium. Where else but poetry, after all, are we going to find an echo asking a shadow to dance, queried the poet Carl Sandburg. Oh, excuse me. This is a newspaper column. I have to get prosaic.
My argument, then, is that, for their own enlightening delight, more people should read poetry and read it regularly. They’re allowed to refuse intimidation, scorning the stuff that never descends from hoity-toity peaks of academe, as they partake instead in the elation of language that’s not only clear but inviting.
Using rhyme sometimes, all kinds of other tricks with sound, taking advantage of rhythm, deploying visual images, making you hear, taste and smell what’s in someone else’s mind, poetry can grab your imagination and take you places you never expected. It hints at vastness behind the literal. It intrigues, it awakens, it stimulates, it enlarges.
Most definitions that try to encompass the whole of poetry end up failing, but there’s this some say about much of it: The words mysteriously conspire to give you a vivifying experience that is never captured in after-the-fact paraphrase.
I don’t mean that analysis and summing up meanings never have their legitimate purposes. I am contending instead that there’s a difference between being slammed to the ground or tossed to the clouds by a poem and reflecting later about what was said and the sensation’s causes.
There was a time, for instance, when I came across “One Art,” a great poem by Elizabeth Bishop. It’s about how we try to cope as so much passes out of our lives, from houses we lived in to people we loved. Even if I went on in detail about each line, I don’t think it would make you cry. When I read the actual poem aloud to my wife, she cried.