Listen to the Poets

More than ever, particularly during this time of economic turmoil and militarism, our hearts must remain open to the poets. Some whisper, others yell and scream; many are challenging us to re-examine normality and look deeply at the world around us.

Public domain photograph of Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, widely considered one of the great American poets, absorbed the complexity and beauty of New York City by simply walking. His groundbreaking slim volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass, is a testament to this boundless curiosity about those around him – celebrated and anonymous, wealthy and poor, artists and everyday working people. For an artist sees the world not merely as it appears, but as it does not.

Like Whitman, Gwendolyn Brooks drew inspiration from sidewalks and city streets. Brooks once said, “If you wanted a poem, you had only look out of a window. There was material always walking or running, fighting or screaming or singing.” Within “Kitchenette Building” from her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, she wrote:

“We are the things of dry hours and the involuntary plan, Grayed in, and gray. ‘

During an address at Mt. Holyoke College in 1978, Audre Lorde, brilliant poet, essayist, activist said: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” When I become despondent or reflective, poetry becomes my solace, and reminds me to awaken. Yet it exists not only in words, but through mundane motion, rhythmic speech, the innocuous laugh of a child, or the subtle patter of rain drops against a window. Poetry is powerful because it is tangible, palpable and relevant.

Photo by Heather Conley

The poet Ai introduced us to countless characters – wounded, conflicted and complex. Like all moving poetry, her work forces audiences to confront what is easier to ignore, such as “Riot Act, April 29, 1992” (partially included below):

I’m going out and get something.

I don’t know what.
I don’t care.
Whatever’s out there, I’m going to get it.
Look in those shop windows at boxes
and boxes of Reeboks and Nikes
to make me fly through the air
like Michael Jordan
like Magic.
While I’m up there, I see Spike Lee.
Looks like he’s flying too
straight through the glass
that separates me
from the virtual reality
I watch everyday on TV.

Lucille Clifton, another prolific voice, listened and watched intently, too. Her poem “The Killing of the Trees” questions why we do not value living beings – particularly those who do not look like us. Its message lingers long after the words end.

Poets also draw on the evolving nature of human perception. Rabindranath Tagore, playwright, poet, novelist, musician, and painter, left us with three sentences whose truth is arresting: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Pushing us beyond the boundaries of formulaic thought and convention, the greatest poets provide subtle beauty, light and compassion. They have so much to tell us, if we will only listen.
Emelda De Coteau
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Emelda De Coteau

Mother, wife, sister, friend, writer / blogger / creative organizer, budding photographer... These are just a few of the many hats I juggle each day. I believe creativity is oxygen for the soul. I created Live In Color blog to celebrate the beauty in every moment, from faith to inspiration and motherhood.And it is soon becoming Pray with Our Feet blog which will focus on the intersection of faith and activism. Follow the inspiration on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/praywithourfeetblog/
Emelda De Coteau
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3 Replies to “Listen to the Poets”

  1. Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes! The poet, the oracle, knows before anyone knows, even herself. Love this post. Thanks for visiting my blog and liking “The Devil Is in the Details: Sandra.” I like the look of your blog, too. I’ll be back.

    1. Aww… No prob.! I like your blog and writing style! Thanks so much for visiting & reading this post!! It’s great to connect with folks & hear feedback. 🙂
      Live In Color – E

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