Sunday, March 28, 2010

The (Almost Forgotten) Art of Poetry

When was the last time you read a poem? Be honest. School? University? Reading out aloud at a wedding or funeral? Hardest question: when was the last time you read or bought a book of poems? The only reason I am thinking about poetry for the first time in a long time is because I recently reviewed a book of poems and was suddenly thrust into someone else’s mind. Poetry is not like reading a book. One can think they plumb the depths of a writer’s mind, but read a poem and your perspective changes. A poet is forced to lay bare his or her soul in an act of brutal honesty without the many words available to a writer.


There are as many definitions of poetry as there are poets. Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.” Emily Dickinson said, “If I read a book and it makes my body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry.” Dylan Thomas defined poetry this way: “Poetry is what makes me laugh or cry or yawn, what makes my toenails twinkle, what makes me want to do this or that or nothing.” Robert Frost said, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and thought has found words.”

So where does poetry come from? Wikipedia has a nice concise definition. Poetry as an art form predates literacy. Some of the earliest poetry (songs) is believed to have been orally recited or sung. Poetry was employed as a way of remembering oral history, story (epic poetry), genealogy, and law. Poetry is often closely related to musical traditions, and much of it can be attributed to religious movements. Many of the poems surviving from the ancient world are a form of recorded cultural information about the people of the past, and their poems are prayers or stories about religious subject matter, histories about their politics and wars, and the important organizing myths of their societies.

Is poetry relevant to modern life? I would say more now than ever. However, I happened upon a blog where someone else said it better than I ever could. The founder of the first-ever Massachusetts Poetry Festival Organizer Michael Ansara says: “Google “poetry and funerals”—over 7,000,000 links come up. Google “poetry and weddings”—over 4,000,000 links come up. Why? Because poetry remains our deepest song. It is the sound and imagery and lyrics of our souls. It teaches us to look at the smallest moment and the details of life and learn from them. It can inspire us when we are heavy with grief. It gives voice to all the most important parts of being human—and it helps us struggle with the mysteries and with the awful facts of being human in this awe-inspiring chaos of the universe. Is it chance that most religious texts incorporate poetry? (…) But there are so many contemporary poets along with the great poets of the past who can still sing to us, who can still help us make sense of the paradoxes of living, who can inspire, comfort and stretch us. That is why when we bury our loved ones we want poetry. Now we have to bring the great poets and the great poetry of our day out into the light and bring it to people rather than asking them to find it in some cramped back room of a bookstore.”

With that in mind, I dipped into Essence of My Existence: Poems to Acknowledge My Truth by Rajyeshwari Ghosh. Here is my review: A Sublime Journey of the Soul

“This book of poems is a gem, something to be savored and relished for each word of wisdom and awakening it offers the reader. The poet has made courageous journeys of both inner and outer self, endured both physical and emotional hardships, and this is reflected in her work. Stripped of illusions and pretensions, the poet reaches deep within herself for the answers to life’s questions. Sometimes there are no answers; sometimes the answers are painful, but they take the reader onward and upward to the understanding of life we all crave. Her words drop softly, like the petals of an exquisite flower upon the pool of water that is our consciousness. Tiny ripples disturb our thoughts and awaken a sense of understanding. The poet shows her true soul and self in an often anguished investigation of emotions ranging from relationships (family, friends, lovers), to seemingly mundane tasks like job hunting, to a bitter disillusionment with the American Dream, to just ‘being’. The poet is not afraid to strip away the layers and arrive at painful realizations. There are beautiful moments when her words prompt the reader to pause awhile and reflect on how often we rush past those special times and people in life, but it’s too late to recapture those precious times (I Have Grown Up Too Fast). The poet looks for authenticity in life and self, seeking a meaningful existence in a hurly-burly world that is often transient, shallow, fast, cruel and unjust, seeking the joy in each day, reaching for a moment of new awakening (The Realities). From plumbing the depths of a loss of self-identity, the poet offers words of wisdom equivalent to the adage ‘to thine own self be true’ … leading to an awakening from within and a renewed faith in self and humanity.”
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