During the Q&A after a recent online reading, I was asked how writing poetry has changed my life. The question sounds grandiose, I know, but I replied that it allowed me to capture thoughts that otherwise would have evaporated in a remote part of my brain. Think the Memory Dump in the Pixar movie, Inside Out.
I also mentioned that when I was growing up, I made up a term for these thoughts in the hope of preserving them. I called them thinkers. A thinker was a deep thought that went beyond the two-dimensional world of boyhood. I even numbered them until eventually, the number became too large, or I had become distracted by other interests
Although I can’t recall any of my thinkers specifically, I do remember some of the moments when that light flashed in my head. Once, I was on my driveway at my childhood home on a bright summer day when one came to me. I said to myself, There it is, I just had another thinker!
I never told anyone about my thinkers, perhaps because I was embarrassed to reveal them, or thought it would make me seem vulnerable. I never wrote them down either, in any form. In fact, I didn’t write my first thinker until junior year of college when I took a poetry writing class.
That first poem was a sonnet I titled, Dash, about the dash between one’s birth and death dates on a tombstone. The dash meant as much about how to live a fulfilling life as well as the vigor with which to live such a life.
The French mathematician, Blaise Pascal, wrote this mind-blasting thinker in his Pensées No. 72:
‘For after all what are humans in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from them in an impenetrable secret. They are equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which they were drawn and the infinite in which they are engulfed.’
Perhaps this was the source of my thinkers. That I had an awareness of myself in relation to infinity and nothingness that couldn’t sufficiently be described except through poetry. Poetry provided a way to capture the unspeakable miracle of everyday existence amidst Pascal’s broad landscape.
Maybe this was why I didn’t tell anyone about my thinkers, or write them down, for that matter. They are elusive by nature. So elusive that even the best poetry can only hope to scratch their surfaces.