The paradox of poetry

Most would agree with the idea that writing (and reading) poetry connects us to a deeper level of consciousness and meaning in the world.

This view is somewhat overly dramatized in this scene from the character John Keating (John Keats, anyone?) in Dead Poet’s Society.

Hopefully, by now you’ve realized poetry will not bring you prestige, money, or adulation.  In the entire time I’ve spent writing poetry seriously over the last decade, I estimate I’ve made less than $500.  And I can count on one hand the number of times someone I’ve met for the first time had even the foggiest notion that I wrote poetry.

So Keating is essentially right.  Writing poetry is about connection–connection to our daily lives, connection to ourselves, and perhaps most importantly, connection to a shared consciousness of all humanity.

The paradox, then, is that writing poetry is such a solitary act.  Day after day, year after year, we work on our poems in solitude.  We face the blank page (or computer screen) alone. For me, I work late into the night, piling on phrases with a purple felt tip marker, all while the world sleeps.  Sometimes I look down and notice my German Shepherd Jake sleeping by my feet, but as much as I wish he could, the dog isn’t writing the poem with me.

I’m all by myself in this.

Perhaps it’s best.  The poet’s journey, like that of the hero, is not for everyone.  Only the poet (or the fool or idiot) willingly descends into the abyss and underworld, each and every day, trying to bring creation back, guaranteed nothing but the journey and the trials.

Is the journey worth it? The answer is obvious. We’re human, after all.


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