“The public and the person are inevitably one and the same self.”
– Phyllis Webb, The Colour of the Light
Every time I wear this shirt to school, kids ask why. Whether their intention is to distract me from coursework hardly matters because for those few moments—in the words of poet Terrance Heath—the harp is strung. I would rather discuss the life-giving power of poetry than anything on this whole vast earth, payday and poutine included.
Why, read more poetry?
How soon after meeting someone new, have you catalogued the differences between you? Differences are easy to spot. Ivy league studies tell us the first aspects of a stranger’s identity that we register are the observable differences in race, gender, age, style, and more.
The tendency to disagree, envy or simply compare, is testament to our culture’s favourite myth: that of separation. Cue isolation, competition, and inferiority complexes.
Differences, we know.
Poetry is a salve to this pain of disconnection. Poems have the power to unite, connect and remind us of our shared humanity. We’re all human; all here. As with any art which gestures to the heartbeat of our irreverent form, poetry points to the pieces of this experience that we all share.
We are grounded back in emotion: what it is to be loved, afraid, and alive. We are reminded of a truth we already deeply know but often forget, that we are all connected. The 49th parallel is not quite the barrier it once seemed.
So read more poetry, dear students, because it counters the myth of separation. It speaks to what is similar about us.
Why read, more poetry?
“This is a prairie road. This road is the shortest distance between nowhere and nowhere. This road is poem.”
-Robert Kroetsch, Seed Catalogue
Have you ever had that tongue-twisting experience of language failing you? Have you ever wanted to translate a thought, and image, a correlation or something otherwise profound, but you could not find the words to do it well?
Another possible answer to question my t-shirt generates is this: sometimes metaphor articulates a truth that seems impossible to get at any other way.
As the tradition of prairie poetry reminds us, the barren plains are an apropos metaphor for language’s elusiveness. For poets like Kroetsch and Dorn, the very inadequacy of the landscape becomes a resource. Put simply: less is more.
Poetic language is a tool for meaning-making; for giving shape to our experiences. Poems have a secret power: they often describe reality more aptly than fact.
So read on, my students. Evermore poetry.
-Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven