I majored in English in collegeâ€”I have always loved stories. I can’t even remember now what my period of interest wasâ€”maybe 19th century English and French literature? That sounds reasonable. I read a fair number of novels, plays and…poetry. Yes, I fondly recall a seminar in French symbolist and surrealist poetry.
Homework was reading poetry, and I remember how first I’d just read an assigned poem. Then I’d go back and look up all the words I didn’t know or understand and translate it. Then I’d read my crude translation to try to understand the sense of the individual words and the vision of the poem. Read it again trying to internalize the meaning of the words as I read them. Read it again out loud to hear the language. It took hours to read a few lines of text on a page!
While I was wrestling with this class, I remember going to some event and chatting to two somewhat inebriated English graduate students and explaining that really, I just didn’t get all the hoopla about poetry. And having them earnestly explain that poetry was it. The pinnacle. The point. The Ultimate in the pantheon of literature….
I didn’t buy it. I figure they just liked to lord it over us lowly undergraduates and needed to pick something obscure and difficult (indeed often impenetrable) and pretend they understood the secret language, and others lacked the refined ear and were not worthy of the key to unlock this treasure. ENC (Emperor’s New Clothes) I thought. Nothing there.
Flash forward several years. Had broken up with my college/post college boyfriend, moved to New York, gotten a job. But I was still connected with our collective friends when I found out from other sources that he was getting married to a woman who had banned all of his former friends (our friends) as a pre-condition. He had to give them all up for her, and he did.
I felt compelled to write to him. It couldn’t be any kind of lengthy explanation of my disappointment in his actions: his willingness to betray long term friends to satisfy an utterly inappropriate perception of threat. To roll over and allow for such bad behavior. To not stand up for himself. To be so utterly lacking in integrity. No. No explanations.
It had to be brief–no more than 3 sentences. Expressive. Dignified. Ruthless.
I wrestled with words. Wrote and rewrote. Crafted my note. Every word had to have resonance, had to have it’s own integrity and then when juxtaposed to another, and another, create a new and nuanced meaning. I flashed back to my conversation on Poetry and realized…
Poetry is it.
It is the challenge of packing the world in a thimble, of making each word do double, triple duty or more. Of creating a multifaceted object that you can turn and turn again, see through it, see yourself in it, see other dimensions within it. Within yourself.