How often do we turn to art to make sense of what we are experiencing? Of what we are feeling? How often do we turn to music or movies to give shape to disorder, whether it be the disorder of pain or joy?
I moderated a poetry workshop online recently. I have always held my workshops in person, but due to restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this workshop was done remotely.
My in-person workshops will usually have five to seven attendees. This online workshop had 25. Not surprisingly, the majority of poems that were generated had to do with the pandemic. The perspectives were both personal and communal. It seemed as if each participant was trying to make sense of the impact the pandemic has had on them and on the world around them.
If given enough time to talk, a person will reveal what’s on their minds. They will dump the contents of their mental storage boxes across the table or, in the case of my workshop, across the page.
The poet Gerald Stern said, “Poetry is a kind of religion, a way of seeking redemption, a way of understanding things so that they can be reconciled, explained, justified, and redeemed.”
Poetry helps us make sense of contradictions. Take the virus. How can something so small, invisible to the naked eye, be so far-reaching, impacting every area of our lives? How can it make us feel so isolated, but at the same time so connected?
I believe at the root of poetry is a desire to express the un-expressible, to acknowledge the many mysteries and contradictions of our existence. At some point, the conventional words to describe how we feel fails us.
Enter poetry. Metaphor incarnated. A bridge between ignorance and understanding. Words that attempt to reach and give shape to a deeper understanding of feelings and contradictions.
Poetry (and art of any kind) gives us the transformative ability to be interpretive. It provides a language of connotation instead of just denotation. The writing and reading of poetry may not always resolve an emotion, but it will give it more richness and dimension, and hopefully, for us, a better perspective.
Perhaps, as a poet, the idea of poetry as religion is overly romantic. Perhaps my head is in the clouds.
Or maybe I’m just preaching to the choir.