Isn’t it about time for the annual “Poetry is Dead” article? Usually the death knell for poetry arises in the month of April, ostensibly “National Poetry Month.” The meager ratcheting up of poetry coverage brings out the hand-wringers and nay-sayers to remind us that “no one reads poetry.”
But what if you’re one of the people who not only (GASP) reads poetry, but in addition to writing it, you BUY it? What if you’re one of those people who reviews it, rates it on Amazon and Good Reads, recommends it? What if, for Pete’s sake, you’re one of those weirdos who actually buys poetry for other people?
What do you think of yourself then? Are you nobody?
Emily Dickinson wrote (sometime before her death in 1886, but dang it if we aren’t still talking about her):
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
I like to imagine, when my pencil is scratching across the notebook page early in the morning, others who are lifted out of the constant grind of daily decisions by writing. I imagine them with their faces toward the light like mine, with their eyes open and their ears on the words. I see them pressing poetry books into the hands of those who might go under for want of a kindred soul. I know they’re out there, those poetry lovers.
The other day I was in the grocery store, slinking along with my canvas bags and my head full of Li-Young Lee’s poetry (oh yes, his new book The Undressing in the car). Suddenly, a man that I only see about three times each year roared out, “I bought your new book and the poems are making me cry.” He grabbed my arm and swung me toward him. “I love this new work,” he continued in a voice so loud I felt like I might melt before it.
I know that he lost his father last year. Somehow, at least one of the poems that I’d written had been a key for whatever was locked inside him. I could only hope that he felt like I did when a poem fit perfectly inside an empty space I’d been carrying, a space made of feeling alone and now filled with words.
I could only smile and thank him. Thank him for reading my work and telling me so. Thank him for reading poetry. For reminding me that when I am at my desk, I am not truly alone. I think of tne notecard that is stuck beside me on the filing cabinet:
“Writing poetry is a chance to give yourself an authentic life instead of an excuse.”
And for that, among so many other things, I am grateful.