The Your Voice section of The Poet’s List showcases articles and blog posts written by poets. These pieces may or not be about poetry. Most often, they are on topics with which the poet finds passion. You can find more of these posts, here: Your Voice.
By Tricia Caspers-Ross
So many people tell me they don’t “get” poetry. When I hear this I usually respond by saying, “It’s not for everyone,” because I don’t like to argue, unless you’re my husband. But something happened recently that’s making me want to argue a little bit.
My congregation had an event last weekend where my friend John Bowman and I read some poems. When it was over, another friend in the audience came up and said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t ‘get’ poetry.” I gave my usual response.
The next day, the same friend remarked that she really enjoyed a story that was read during the service.
“That was a poem,” I said.
The poem was Naomi Shihab Nye’s, “Gate A-4.” In fact, it’s a poem that’s become very popular since the recent terrorist attacks and is currently shared on Facebook as often as a Ryan Gosling meme. It’s a hopeful poem, about a moment where the speaker helps out a Palestinian woman at an airport gate and how their resulting friendship brings everyone together in that moment of waiting for a delayed flight:
“She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
When my friend told me she liked Shihab Nye’s poem, I realized that what people are saying when they say, “I don’t get poetry,” is really: “I haven’t found a poem that speaks to me.”
It’s a challenge to find the poem that speaks to us when poems are shared so infrequently. We think of them as fine china, to be used on special occasions like weddings and funerals and presidential inaugurations. If we treated poetry more like the bread on the table – or maybe not bread because we’re all gluten-free these days – more like coffee, then, something to be consumed daily, we would all find the poems that move us.
What difference does it make?
Well, I don’t know about you, but the world is always speeding by me. There’s so much information all at once, and there’s so much hurt to process that I try to numb myself by getting lost in a screen, eating too much birthday cake, drinking an extra glass of pinot noir on Friday night. Once I’m numb, though, it becomes a challenge to feel again.
That’s what poetry does for me. It brings me into a moment, slows it down, allows me to really feel it and know that I’m not alone in that feeling. One poem that really speaks to this is Adrienne Rich’s, “Dedications.” She writes:
“I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your
because life is short and you too are thirsty.”
Another friend told me that she wakes up every morning and reads a poem first thing. I, on the other hand, wake up every morning and read my email. It’s generally not enriching or enlightening, and I could read it at any time, so I’m challenging myself to read a poem every morning instead. I’m challenging you, too, to find a poem that speaks to you. Poetryfoundation.org has a wealth of poems waiting to be read, and you can even search by subject. A few other online journals I enjoy are “The Normal School,” “The Cortland Review,” and “Storyscape.” Go. See what you find. Share it with me. I love discovering new poetry, and I may combine all of your poetic choices and turn them into a column of their own.
If you can’t bring yourself to read a poem, that’s OK. Maybe just find the poem in the moment – in the gold clouds at dusk in your rear view mirror, in your gray tabby meowing for his morning meal at dawn or in something as simple as the breath you take as you look up from reading these words.