Long ago and not so far away I was a working journalist (why we would call ourselves “working” still puzzles me because it’s not an easy job, especially near deadline), I kept a saying given me by a seasoned editor above my desk: “Today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s kitty litter.” It was a great way to stay humble and take stock of the reality of writing most anything–that it will go the way of all flesh and disappear.
But I had forgotten about poetry. Unlike newspaper stories poetry lasts because it attaches itself to our very souls. When I doubt this, I recite poems I memorized in grade school and amaze myself I remember them. “When to the sessions of sweet silent thought,” the beginning of one Shakespearean sonnet or “Two roads diverge…..”, the classic lines from Robert Frost.
Why do I remember poetry? I suspect it’s first the music of words, like a tune one hears and can’t get out of one’s head. But I also know poetry operates at more than the level of the mind, but touches the heart as well. And when anything touches both the mind and heart, it tends to stick around longer.
In this age of quick news, text messages, and other forms of communication that come and go like thieves in the night, stealing our very souls, poetry points to deeper and I hope more lasting realities–that of love and death, of common days spent uncommonly, of laughter and tears, of small successes and harsh defeats. Poetry speaks of what lasts, at least until we destroy our planet and ourselves with it, and even then, I hope a poet writes about the end.
Poetry also brings the hot fire of truth, especially truth we don’t want to hear and seldom do. In these difficult times, the words of the poet Philip Appleman jumped out of the book I was reading, grabbed me by my bathrobe, and got me to think.
“…make the bad people good–
and the good people nice.
and before our world goes over the brink,
teach the believers how to think.”