What We Can Learn From Poetry in Writing and Life: In Honor of National Poetry Month

Robinson Jeffers — American Poet.

I fell in love with writing because of poetry. I learned to write with beauty and pain, with power and grace, with flow and rhythm because of the poets.

I learned the meaning of language and even life, the heart and soul that you can infuse in a few well-chosen words, the passion and majesty that can be imbued in a verse, a sentence because of that careful attention to language, that careful selection of words. The poets taught me that every single word matters and how those words can offer so much meaning about life, creation, the meaning of existence, especially if you know, because of them, how to charge your words with life and meaning.

Without them, I would never be able to unwind a line that actually meant something, that actually felt real and tangible instead of abstract, vapid, and dreadfully heartless.

The poets offer us the heart of life and teach us how to bring that heart of life, the blood, the marrow, the flesh, the bones, into our writing so that it actually breathes life, offers experiences and wisdoms that we would have never divined on our own because our writing would never be capable of revealing it.

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / that sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, / and spills the upper boulders in the sun; / and makes gaps even two can pass abreast.” — Robert Frost.

I learned how to see, I learned how to breathe, I learned how to think, I learned how to be, I learned how to live, I learned how to be human because of those poets who dared to look at the world differently and find things that none of us would ever see, the way the wind moves on a cold fall day, how the sun lingers radiantly above the horizon just before sunset.

I learned how to love, I learned how to be free, I learned the meaning of the infinite and the meaning of the limitations of my own human potential — and endless capacity because of them. Without the poets, I would be less than, as a human, as a writer, as a man, as a person, as a living being trying to survive and make ones way in a world that is both beautiful and ugly, shone in all its beautifulness and ugliness because of them.

I learned that time is precious and that every minute counts (and every ham sandwich should be relished even if it’s bad) because of them.

“Temptation’s page flies out the door / you follow, find yourself at war, watch waterfalls of pity roar / you feel to moan but unlike before / you discover / that you’d just be / one more person crying.” — Bob Dylan

And I am saddened when I meet that poor soul who doesn’t read poetry because society or friends or family or someone told them the poets are boring, without worth, valueless, not something that can be easily bought or sold in this capitalistic frenzy. I am saddened that our world today doesn’t value them like they should — but perhaps you can’t put a price on pricelessness or truth.

I am saddened that they can’t see the light they offer, feel the beat of their beautiful hearts, see the greater grandeurs of the world that gets lost in our rush to produce, to succeed, and climb some ladder that someone (who likely did not read much poetry) told us we must climb because that’s the only meaning of life.

No….that’s not the only meaning of life. If it is, we are done for.

There are many ways and means to live and you’ll find them in those dusty-yellowed pages that too few eyes pass over these days, except the wise ones that know there’s hope, joy, pain, fear, ecstasy, and the sublime beneath that layer of dust disguising what we should all know and feel, lest we become a lesser human. If we don’t know our humanity, from the darkest depths to the nirvana that is indeed around us, we’ll never write well or ever hope to from blogs to novels to tweets and everything in between. The poets pull back the veil of fakery and lay bare what is real and what is not.

They should never be forgotten and we shouldn’t need a National Poetry Month to tell us they are important (even though I am happy we have such a thing).

We will never write or live or breathe or see or be or reach our potential, our true potential, learn to relish both folly and success, as writers or humans, without them. They are you: they represent us, in all our troubles and greatness. Without their knowledge, we can never hope to live or write beauty and pain, or impart knowledge and feeling of true worth, or any worth.

Let’s not forget that and learn from them, as writers and humans who continually push to become better in our craft and in our walks of life.

That’s what we can learn from poetry.

Stephen J. McConnell is the co-founder of Guiding Type, a content development and internet marketing company based in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter, @sj_mcconnell.com, or subscribe to his thoughts on writing blog at sjmcconnell.com. Guiding Type is currently seeking new clients and partnerships with a wide range of businesses that have content and marketing needs.

Stephen also recently finished a novel about a sudden collapse in Earth’s environment and finished a screenplay about a United States soldier’s woes in Afghanistan. He is currently seeking representation for both works. In addition, Stephen recently published an eBook on creative writing, In Search of You. Creative Writing: Journey, Style, Method. He also has a collection of his own unpublished poetry entitled Irreverent Folly, a meditation and reflection on 21st-century America through the mosaic of poetic language. He has a B.S. in English from Radford University and a M.S. in Writing from New York University.


Originally published at sjmcconnell.com on April 13, 2016.

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