Friday, April 15, 2011
National Poetry Month: Why Read Poetry?
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- Part of my regular habit as a person who greatly appreciates the written word is to attend poetry readings. I’m one of the odd fellows that comb through the newspaper looking for readings to attend.
Part of the allure of attending these readings is to find someone who is a really great poet, a person that can unearth what it means to be human in all its assorted variances: someone who understands the craft of writing and reading a great poem.
Being that it is National Poetry Month, I decided to check out several of the readings happening around town to see if there was someone out there I resonated with.
As it turned out, I found such a person: Adam Rubinstein.
I came across Adam at a local bookstore called Acequia (the Spanish word we use for canals here in New Mexico). His poems were well crafted, thoughtful, and very human. Additionally, his lecture was engaging and, at times, confrontational to certain forms of poetry.
But I get ahead of myself.
I decided to purchase Adam’s book before I heard the lecture. I headed over to have him sign a copy (I collect signed poetry books). Adam was talking with Levi. As I was handing the book to Adam, Levi looked up at me and said, “You won’t be able to put this down. It is a great book.” I said to myself, “A fine endorsement, indeed.”
Two poets were lecturing and reading at this reading. The first was Brendan Constantine, a poet and teacher from Los Angeles. He did an amazing job capturing the power and allure of poetry through his lecture and reading. And when he read George Herbert’s poem on prayer, that was it—I was fan of his lecture.
Herbert was an Anglican pastor and poet living in the 16th century, and one of my favorite poets. The poem Brendan read is as follows:
PRAYER (I) (written in Olde English)
PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner's towre,
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
Brendan rightfully pointed out that this poem is about 200 years ahead of its time in craft and style. Simply put, it’s a great poem. And Brendan did a beautiful job in reading it with the grandeur it deserves.
Next came Adam. Adam’s lecture was informative and passionate, and as mentioned above, somewhat opinionated to other forms (non-linear, etc.) of poetry. For Adam, poetry must resonate with the human condition and be approachable to people. Two qualities I value myself.
As much as I found Rubinstein’s lecture satisfying, it wasn’t until I went home and began to read Adam’s poems in his book, Freshwater Dredge (Destructible Heart Press) that I realized that Adam was quite a poet, capturing what he preached in this lecture. His poems are very human and approachable.
Take for example Rubinstein’s poem “Sprague Preschool”:
By fourth grade, we know
We have memorized every forsaken
But at four, my sister is still standing
As you can read, the poem is approachable, using common words and everyday themes. But the mystery of it’s overall meaning is hidden. Is the sister about to get a dose of cruelty from the other girls? Is she going to be invited to play? Is this poem about loneliness and cruelty or about acceptance?
The bottom line is that Rubinstein’s poem—like any good poem—will cause us to consider, think, ponder, and react to (and with) the poem’s main themes.
Poetry can (and should) help us become more aware of ourselves as human beings in a world that is quickly denigrating the role and acceptance of what it means to be human.
It’s sad to me that poetry is not more widely read in our world today. There was a time when the recitation of poetry was mandated and expected of all students. True, there is a small resurgence of poetry with Slam Poets and Performance poetry, but the truth is the written form has slipped in sales over the years.
So why read poetry? The answer is hinted at above: to grow as human beings, to gain understanding of the big questions of life, to nurture our mind and soul. Just as importantly, to have fun and enjoy finding meaning in another person’s experience and thoughts: to ask ourselves, “Does this relate to me, our world, our society?”
Poetry is a mirror of life. We read poetry to understand who we are in relationship to each other and—if we believe—God’s ordered world spoken through a word and the whisper of life.
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.