So where should a person look for poetry?
“No ideas but in things.” This famous piece of advice from William Carlos Williams is an idea, yes, but I think we can forgive him that in exchange for the lesson it imparts. After all, would we have learned as much if he had merely handed us a sprig of lavender?
For those of us who love reading poetry, there is always a thrill in discovering that new voice who speaks directly to us. Well, us and the thousands of others who enjoy her or his work. But this does not detract from the sense of intimacy. The well-written poem allows us to see the world in a way that is both shockingly new and as familiar to us as our own name.
Rivertown Dispatch closes with Mary reciting one of Carol’s poems:
I am the blackberries that hang heavy in August.
I am the thorn and I am the scratch.
But I am the sweetness, too, written on your tongue.
I am the rusty chain dredged up from the river.
I am the driftwood floating, I am the silverfish
cupped in your hands.
And always, I am the name you’ve not heard for ages.
Spoken by a stranger,
a stranger you will soon call friend.
The story of Grace’s discovery is a fiction in the way that all of Rivertown Dispatch is a fiction, but I would also like to suggest that the poetry that most affects us is always true.
When writing the poetry that I eventually voiced through the character of Carol, my process was the same as when I write poetry as me. To probe a hunch, to write truthfully of the sensual world, to find the words that cast two shadows (to borrow poet Mary Oliver’s phrase)–these are the ways I discover the connections between me and you, my dear reader. The connection between this life and our deepest longings.
That is at least my hope. The reality is much messier: words crossed out, multiple drafts over a period of months, an uncertainty that I will ever be able to find the words that correspond to the ache or the image. It is quite a lot of fuss for a handful of words, but a necessary one. Because I believe that it is through the making of connections that poetry makes meaning. Poetry helps us to feel truths not just intellectually but through our senses. And I would argue that poetry offers a deeper way of knowing–as countless mystics and artists have done before me. Poetry allows us new ways of seeing and being in the world.
And that’s not all.
In her article, “Wielding Thor’s Hammer: What It Means to Write as Ministry,” Susan Yanos observes: “Because truth lies within each of us, the creative process is the discipline writers embrace in order to encounter the mystery of the truth of their experiences and of their beings. Slowly, ever so slowly, poets grow into the poems they were meant to be.”
Imagine that, all you poets out there! You are becoming a poem. No accountant, basketball player, or cashier can claim that, huh!
So let me ask the question one last time: where do you find poetry? And if you say, “in me,” let me congratulate you for coming so far without ever having left your best self behind.
Kiffmeyer, Jennie. Rivertown Dispatch. (Solo performance) 2012.
Oliver, Mary. A Poetry Handbook. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Co, 1994.
Yanos, Susan. “Wielding Thor’s Hammer: What It Means to Write as
Ministry.” Friends Journal June/July (2010): n pag. Web. 7 June 2010.