I believe in poetry
I believe in poetry. That may be an odd thing to hear coming from me. A lot of people think of poets, and people who like poetry, as delicate, sensitive types. I'm afraid I'm way too scarred and...lumpy...to be considered either delicate or sensitive.
I don't understand that attitude. Once I spent an evening with a couple of world class poets -- the sort who get their names in encyclopedias. Neither one seemed particularly delicate or sensitive. Both of them grew up on farms pitching hog manure and both displayed an impressive capacity for whiskey and a gift for language that might not be suitable for a family newspaper.
The conversation that night occasionally left me in the dust, especially when they talked about translations of Persian poetry or opera, but then it would swerve back to more familiar territory, like flaming rats and politics.
Or was the discussion about flaming rats during the discussion about politicians? I have to confess that at some point my memory of the evening gets a little blurry.
Lots of people think poetry is boring. I blame the schools.
Now, I know all sorts of hard-working, dedicated teachers who will be offended by this, but the truth is, schools seem to have the ability to make almost anything boring. I mean, schools can make history boring! How is that possible? If you read any history you're swarmed under with wars, explosions, intrigue -- excitement of every kind. Yet in countless schools across America, kids are, as we speak, dozing off in history class.
Maybe it has something to do with the hot lunch or maybe the pressure of trying to teach something without offending anyone, but in our schools we seem to get what's important mixed up with what isn't. Think about it. Hundreds of fans, bands and cheerleaders show up at football games, but when was the last time you saw a group of parents doing the wave after a stirring civics lecture or a chalkboard depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg?
So, I suppose with this institutional predilection for boring, poetry doesnâ€™t stand a chance in schools. And that's a shame, because poetry can lift you up, take you to places you've never been before and tell you things about yourself you never dreamed. On the shelf above my computer monitor I've posted a variety of quotes, including several poems. My eye keeps falling on one in particular.
Oddly enough, it was sent to me by two people, years apart. It's titled "To Be of Use," and was written by a woman named Marge Piercy. I can't print the whole thing because it would make the column too long, not to mention it would be against the law, but if you get a chance, you should look it up. A few random lines include "The people I love the best jump into work head first...I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience..."
The poem goes on to talk about work, about nothing more complicated than people working together -- the beauty and simple splendor of doing what needs to be done. The last lines are "the work of the world is common as mud...but a thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident....Hopi vases that held corn are put in museums, but you know they were made to be used. The pitcher cries for water to carry and the person for work that is real."