What is the Point of Poetry?

It's been a rough week trying to understand the suicide of a friend of the family after 57 years of marriage to her childhood sweetheart and the death of a 16 year old niece in a car wreck on the same day. Each succeeding loss brings me back to my own losses over the last few years, most notably the death of my husband in a freak accident at 44.  I've also lost my sister, my brother, my father and grand mother in just a few years.  I understand less and less about each death as time goes by.

The acute grief ebbs and flows, but the sadness and missing never leaves and only grows.  The questions loom though you eventually give up the screaming and yelling,"Why" to settle into a more gentle, "nobody knows anything really" phase.  You can look to Buddhism, the Tao, Christianity, prophets, psychics, psychologists, friends and the heavens but no answers really come.  God is maddingly quiet when it seems to matter the most.

Looking For Help in Grief

I eventually looked to poetry and an online support group, after throwing all of the grief books against the wall after the loss of my husband. It wasn't that I thought I would find answers in poetry, as much as I wanted to see the process of grief, raw and unadulterated. I wanted to see someone was as torn up as I was, as messy and lacking in faith or strength, but somehow miraculously survived.

Too many grief books had a "tie it up with a bow, God never gives you more than you can handle, time will heal" pabulum approach that drove most of the people crazy.  Time wasn't making us better and God had given us more than we believed we could handle, in fact some of us couldn't handle it. Most of all we knew nothing about our loses would ever be tied up with a bow, clean and neat. So many grief books seemed to be written by psychologists with "credentials" who had only watched others going through grief, but had not personally experienced it, or some writer who wrote years after the death with a dispassionate objectivity that feels a million miles away to someone in the agony of immediate grief. 

Not Finding Poetry That Helped in Grief 

When I turned to poetry, I didn't find much to help either.  Everything was written as a riddle, or a challenge and seemed to be written by people who hadn't experience enough of life yet to realize that life is enough of a puzzle and challenge and no one who is hurting and screaming why needs another challenge.  What grieving people need is comfort, beauty, solace and something that speaks the truth without trying to put a bow on it and say, "It will be all better."
My international online support group members agreed, so I began to write what we all wanted and couldn't find.  They couldn't wait to read what I wrote the night before and posted.  They wanted me to publish but I was too broken to try.  I just kept writing poems, crying my tears and sharing it with those who understood.  It wasn't pretty, my verbs weren't exciting, my tone personal, my pieces reeked of emotion.  In short, I wrote everything the poetry elite hate, but everything real people want to read, hunger for and need to read.

So that brings me to the title, "What is the point of poetry?"  Is it to entertain, enlighten, challenge, create social change, touch the heart, heal or to create puzzles?  I like to think poetry is all of these things, but sometimes it seems like the poetry world, as it exists in America, eliminates especially the healing and emotional or personal type poetry-the very poetry the world hungers for and desperately needs.

What if we Embraced all Types of Poetry?

If poetry were music, it would be like saying the only acceptable music is discordant jazz and that's all we'll play.  Music, unlike poetry, has many types of music that can be in vogue at the same time.  Yes, both have their vocal Nazi's who declare all other forms, except the one they happen to like, as inferior.  I can't help but wonder what it would be like if we welcomed all forms of poetry, including the personal and sentimental.  What if our poetry could also speak to those in pain and heal?  What if there was a decent book of poetry that really speaks in a raw, earthy and beautiful way that I could buy for our widowed friend?

What if the Bourgeois Could Enjoy Poetry Too?

Is the poetry world big enough for all of the forms of poetry that touch people?  Is it big enough to embrace the bourgeois common man and invite him to enjoy poetry for the first time in his life because he can understand it while he ponders the questions that really matter in life like, "Why, oh God why, is there so much suffering in the world?"

What would the poetry world, and the larger world we exist in, look like if we opened ourselves to the mundane trivial loss of everyman, that is only mundane and trivial until it happens to you?

What if we Soothed Even One Tortured Soul With Our Poetry?

What if our poetry has the power to reach others when they most need it?  Or, to heal or soothe when nothing else does?  Which one of you wouldn't want to throw someone a lifeline in a sea of sorrow? I dream of a day when all the notes in the songs are valued, not just those of a certain type.  I yearn for the day when bookstores brim with books full of poems that reach people in such a way that they line up to buy a poetry book and give it to their loved ones and friends.  You may call me a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. What would the poetry world look like if we dropped the artificial boundaries and judgments with equal opportunity for all types of poetry, even allowing the common man to partake of our little treasure?

Any thoughts out there?  I'd love to hear them! What does poetry mean to you?

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James said...

Poetry is releasing the song in your heart...

doug said...

Questions and what if's. If only real folks would read da poems. Appreciate the poesy. You're on twitter. Found you there.

So, people will be more open to poetry when subtle and short word slingin' becomes vogue. When a"drawing room" turn of phrase trumps class and college, and seriousness/silliness of trope. When form surrenders to the play and pain and work of articulating..make that utter...make that- whimper/whoop- succinctly what the skin screams involuntarily. Whats hard about that?

Wonderful post. Made me think through the bourbon and allowed an escape, temporarily, from politics. Thanks a bunch for that.


Poet on Poetry said...

Thanks, James, what a lovely way to put it. Sometimes that song is sad and sometimes it's happy and if you're like me sometimes it's jazzy and sometimes its blues. :)

Poet on Poetry said...

Thanks, Doug. Nice to meet you. Glad I allowed you to escape politics. What politics are you referring to? :) No, please don't tell me. I don't think I can write enough to save from politics for very long. Its more pervasive than me. Hope you'll follow the blog if you are not yet and maybe even like my Facebook page. :)

kkrige said...

I too lost my husband a few years back. He died a few months shy of his 35th birthday. I was numb, beside myself, sad, distant and so messed up, with nowhere and no one to make it right. I stumbled and fumbled (read a lot of grief books myself) and discovered the world of blogging. There I allowed myself to write whatever I needed to, be it poetry prose or even the occasional humourful piece. I am glad to say that there is now more humour, and plenty of poetry that fills the pages and pages of my blog. Whatever niche helps us to cope is a pretty special thing.

Thank you for this post. It touched me, the way that someone who knows, who has been there and walked in those shoes, only can.

Peace to you

Poet on Poetry said...

Thank you kkrige. I am sorry for your loss. I am honored to speak your language but i am sorry that you had to learn it. A friend started an online international spport group for me years ago. I think it is defunct now. Anyway, he named it Zebranet after a story i used to tell about how you feel like a zebra in a herd of horses after losing a spouse so young. We are never quite the same again. There are a lot more horses than zebras so it feels good to find someone else who is striped too! We try so hard to blend in and run with the horses but we know we are as blendable as a zebra in a herd of horses.
Blessings to you and your little zebras!
Thanks for finding me. How dif you find me?