January 25, 2007

Why I Love Poetry

There are times in modern life when one needs to get away, far, far away, and there can be no distant oasis or lofty aerie more rejuvenating, no finer companions, than a good book of poetry, a large mug of tea and a Morris chair.

Poems are the landscape of spirit rendered in both sound and silence, and they exercise their own discrete magic and power. They possess in abundance admirable qualities sadly lacking in our day to day existence: qualities of rigour, cadence, elegance, form, simplicity, and from time to time, incandescent beauty. They are glorious adventures: journeys along winding paths, safaris to lost and exotic cities, camel caravans bound for Persian markets or faraway mountain villages. When I read a poem, I can hear the lapping of waves on the shore, the rustle of the wind in the trees, the songs of birds at sunrise and the tolling of faraway bells. I can leave the world behind and take wing.

Poems are exquisite when we experience them in their entirety, and there are even greater revelations to be experienced when we begin to look closely at their elements, at individual letters and syllables, words and even the spaces between the words. All are little works of art or theater, tiny plays or leitmotifs which are descriptive of a feeling or perception, a physical sensation, an encounter with other beings or existence itself. Say the word "rose" aloud or read it in a poem by Dylan Thomas, Rainer Maria Rilke or Pablo Neruda (among others), and one conjures up a remembered bloom and experiences everything about it all over again: its shape, its silky texture, its vibrant color, and its exquisite fragrance.

Every poem is a moment of kensho, a memory, a microcosm, an entire world or history complete within itself, and it is also a cantrip, something the ancient bards and mages understood very well. In writing a poem or reading one, we evoke the true name or fundamental nature of something. To do that at the right time and in the right place is to summon magic and power from a realm beyond the fields we know.

I am seldom "more in the moment" than when I am reading poetry or crafting a poem myself. About the quality of the poems being written, we shall say nothing.