By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS – Dec. 10, 2015) — United States Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, was recently at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was the last speaking engagement of the year for Herrera, a reading and discussion on the importance of poetry.
About 300 plus people gathered to hear Herrera in the beautiful Instituto Cervantes building. After marvelous introductions by local poets, Carlos Contreras and Levi Romero, who reminded the gathering that poetry has “deep roots in New Mexico,” Herrera ascended the stage with a bag of poetry in tow.
As Herrera rummaged through his bag, he talked about his family, his New Mexico connections, and the whirlwind trip he’s been on since becoming the Poet Laureate of the United States. He then read the first poem, a piece from his first book of poems, Rebozos of Love.
Interspersed between his readings and discussion of literary influences, Herrera spoke about the significance of poetry in the lives of Americans, particularly in a day and age where violence and terrorism are inflicting the world. Herrera reminded us that poetry is a “movement of non-violence, a voice of freedom fighters,” and that poetry is “casting love and inspiration,” to the world. Herrera stated that “poets are the new peacemakers,” and that family, colleagues, educators, and those that suffer should be honored—in both practical service and with poetry.
But it was his poetry that conveyed his feelings the most. In the piece, You Throw a Stone, he begins, “you throw a stone/i throw a stone.”
As the poem progresses, it moves to heavier artillery: “then a rocket.”
But a change occurs half way through the poem: “here I lay next to you/we are brothers in a way.”
The poem concludes with thoughtful questions: “those stones what were they/ where did they come from?”
Herrera documents changed lives in his poem: from throwing stones to asking questions; beautiful sentiments, reflective of Herrera’s ideas about the power of poetry as a peacemaking tool in the world.
As I listened to Herrera speak and read, I wondered why has poetry had such a long-lasting influence upon culture, an important catalyst for change?
The answer to this question can be fairly complex, with tomes being written—from Aristotle to our present day—giving insight and explanation.
But for me, the answer is simple: God is the archetype Poet and Creator, the eternal inspiration behind the ideas conveyed in and through poetry, reminding humanity of the perpetual value of the medium of verse.
In short, poetry is an important means in God’s compass of communication; therefore, it is worthy of continual pursuit, understanding, and usage.
When you think about it, one-third of the Old Testament and portions of the New Testament is written in poetry. Whole books such as the Psalms and Song of Solomon were written in poetry, not to mention poetical nuances found in the teachings of Jesus and various prophets throughout the entire scope of Holy Writ.
Even the first words in Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth,” are poetry and reality mixed into one, a mutual exchange of the truth being communicated in an artful and beautiful way.
Imagine that: God broke the silence with a poem.
Reflecting on poetry and humanity, author Suzanne Clark in her book, The Roar on the Other Sides, states, “Thus Adam became the first poet. He named every striped, spotted, winged, webbed, slow, swift creature. He was creative.”
Great thought: poetry was embedded in the first human being.
And unlike our contemporary world where poetry sales are at an all time low , poets in the Bible were highly valued. Case example: one of the heroes of the Old Testament, David, was a poet. And not only is his poetry found in the Psalms, but it is also highlighted in his relationship toward others, such as his lament over the death of his friend, Jonathan, in 2 Samuel 1.
Poetry matters to God, to Biblical writers, and it should matter to all people of faith.
So as I sat with hundreds of other people listening to Juan Felipe Herrera read, I was reminded of God’s invention of, and inspiration for, poetry; a beginning—through the spoken word—that has no end (for I’m sure that eternity is full of the effervescent sounds of beautiful words).
For me, poetry is an imprint of God’s splendor through the use of symbols (words) stamped upon the lives, lips, and minds of His creation. For in writing poetry, the poet—whether they see it or not—is transmitting words for others to ponder, assess, and touch, and thereby participating in the cultural mandate of creativity initiated by God through humanity.
As Suzanne Clark reminds us, “Poetry stands at the center of …living. We glorify God through noticing, comparing, and naming in sometimes startling ways. Unlike the eye of science, poetry sees the deeper meanings that bind seemingly disjointed facts together; the poet sees the world in a grain of sand—the roar on the other side of silence.”
On this day, Juan Felipe Herrera did just this: he showed us the “roar on the other side of silence.” And I heard the growl.
Juan Felipe Herrera’s newest book is called, Notes on the Assemblage. It’s published by City Lights Press: www.citylights.com
Photo captions: 1) U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, Roars On The Other Side of Silence. 2) Instituto Cervantes at the Hispanic Cultural Center. 3) Local poets, Levi Romero and Carlos Contreras, talking before the reading. 4) Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera. 5) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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