On The Necessity Of POETRY
On The Necessity Of POETRY
Swiftly kicked the nascent dreamers
Screaming with the might of
Half a million well-kept armies
Who have just received instructions
To invade their next door neighbor’s house
And rummage through their things
To make trinkets with their jewelry
And tiaras with their rings
To inspect the inside of the place
Soak up all that wetness spilling from their faces
When the hour for living in this world in which we wake
Has long since slipped away
And we now must learn to tread
Through what’s underneath our heads
Well...that took longer than usual. Honestly, it didn’t really take that long - about fifteen minutes, or so. But still, this one required a lot more thought than I typically need to expend on this exercise. Most of the time, I can just grab a pen, flip to a fresh page in a notebook, and have something nice, complete, and concise flow out of me without even realizing until it’s over that I have just partaken in the process of creation. This time, though, I had to actually stop and rack my brain, thoroughly, in order to produce pretty much everything past line one. Not even a couplet was gifted to me by the seraphim of the magical realm (that faraway universe where we all must travel in order to manifest what is dancing to an old ragtime standard within our minds).
You know what? That’s probably a good thing. As a matter of fact, it definitely is. Because, you see, writing poetry is not merely a fun little hobby I like to engage in, nor is it simply a component of my intellectual workout routine, done only for the purposes of nudging awake my snoozing prefrontal cortex.
It is how I have learned to cope with the human condition. It is one of the only things in this world that I have found brings me absolute and genuine comfort. It is quite possibly the purest form of self-expression I have ever encountered in my life - no equipment necessary, just a soul that is willing to shamelessly bare itself to all who it comes into contact with, like some sort of sick flasher, taunting each unsuspecting victim with all the truths we have no choice but to tell.
One way or another, they shall reveal themselves. It is entirely up to you to determine whether you would like to be the one who reveals them, and, if so, how they are to be revealed; should you forego this responsibility, then the process will no longer be in your hands and, one by one, the truth will slowly creep out from the remote corners of your existence until you are surrounded by scattered bones belonging to all of the skeletons in your closet.
Walt Whitman once said, in the Preface to his seminal collection of poetic masterpieces Leaves Of Grass, that “the profit of rhyme is that it drops seeds of a sweeter and more luxuriant rhyme” and that “the greatest poet forms the consistence of what is to be and what has been and is'' by “drag[ging] the dead out of their coffins and stand[ing] them again on their feet...say[ing] to the past, Rise and walk before me that I may realize you...plac[ing] himself where the future becomes present.” Indeed, the production of a poetic work is a process quite similar to alchemy, in that it requires one channel a sort of mystical, divine, intangible, indescribable, beautiful, cosmic energy (apologies for the liberal sprinkling of adjectives - it’s just that there are far too many attributes of this inscrutable phenomenon to list) that, once properly harnessed, grants one the capability to take a raw, undeveloped, unpolished idea and transform it into a certified piece of art.
How is this possible? Surely some degree of sorcery is involved, right? Well, not really. To echo the great Allen Ginsberg (author of “Howl”, a poem that is like a wave whose dense ripples continue to tickle the toes of the little genie that lives inside the lamp that lights my soul), poetry is essentially a form of meditation in that it requires the entirety of one’s focus be directed at one specific task; in this case, that task is the expression of one’s deeply held impressions of the world in a manner that is bound to bring some pleasure to the senses.
It doesn’t always have to rhyme. Mine usually do, just because I have always been a very musically inclined individual (though not necessarily a musically skilled individual). I grew up listening to hip hop, but even before that, my mom would sing me lullabies, then nursery rhymes, then, once my ears had developed enough, poems by everyone from A.A. Milne to Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss to Rumi.
Here is an example of what my poems typically end up looking like (written on the fifth of January, 2021, a little over a week prior to the penning of this thinkpiece):
Dogs will whimper
Through the winter
So they can preserve their bark
For summer’s limber
Days, much simpler
In its pride, it spurns the dark
But we have not yet learned to spark
Its flame, for we have turned and burned
Away our time to herd the sharks
And so we shout unearned remarks
At all who wander near our lawns
Wishing we could hear the dawn
Approaching, so that we just might
Be more prepared for endless nights
But in this fight, there is no bell
And he who wins falls straight to Hell
Now this poem in particular is especially characteristic of my style; not only does it rhyme, it ends on a rather dark and mysterious note, leaving the reader a bit unsettled and perhaps even a little confused. However, these two traits are not always present in my poetry. Here is something I wrote just yesterday - 1/12/21 - while lying in bed at my mother’s house in Austin, TX, dried drippings from the vegan ice cream I had been mindlessly padding my cheeks with, well past the midnight hour, stretched across the tiny strands of deceased nerve endings that make up my beard, serving as a reminder of my need for more discipline when it comes to the moonlight munchies:
And so nightward went the eyes of a thousand rabid raconteurs
who gazed beneath the misdirected moonlight at all the sun-dipped treasures that felt the need to tuck themselves tenderly within the troves of tomorrow’s yesterday, where jousting roustabouts played patty-cake with putrid padlocks, preying on pangolins, lacking in dollars but rich in sense, bathing in a tub of elevated magnanimity while being showered with words of both scorn and adoration from the admirals of January’s discontented dreamscapes, longing for a someone to come lick their tears and snap their necks and send them off to a graveyard sea, where they would swim and swim and swim...and swim and swim and drown and frown and shriek and cry and fear and loathe and panic and writhe and wish to die like fish to fry and fly and leap and laugh and love and cherish and wonder and search and find and keep and learn and grow and yearn to know and earn their soul’s respect but, alas, it is not yet the hour - perhaps we may continue our song another time or, maybe, we will sing another, for what is to live but to breathe new music into the ears of the cosmic lunchbox in which we’ve all been stuffed like a busy boxcar on a cross-country freight to nirvana, where we might just - we might just see exactly what we’ve all been trained to ignore, to blind ourselves to, to forget but not forgive, to hate but not to understand, that is the ballad we all so well have come to soothe ourselves beneath, but at what cost? At what cost? It is not known but it is shown in the lonesome homes where bones and gnomes greet passersby with a solemn “How do you do?” until the Sun says “Sorry I’m running late, I had a thing I had to - well, it’s no use making excuses, but I’m here now, so let’s get started.”
Why, yes - let’s.
As you can see here, not only is there almost no rhyme scheme present in this poem (I could not resist busting out a couple bars, as the temptation to do so is always far too powerful to counter with mere restraint), it also ends on what I feel is a pretty positive note. In fact, I would even say that it begins on a bit of a dark note and then, as the textual trip takes the reader through the tracks of my innermost thoughts, the reader ends up being transported to the starting line of the magnificent human race, where there is no choice but to run with all one’s might until there are no breaths left to let out.
Therein lies what I believe to be the true power of the poetic form. I have often found myself sifting through notions of immense self-doubt - worries that I am wasting my time, that this is nothing but a silly little game of words I play with myself for the purposes of pure entertainment and perhaps even to pad my ego a bit, that I should instead be devoting my time and energy to something more practically productive like studying to be a surgeon who specializes in saving the lives of young children with terminal diseases - all fears that arise as a result of being told my whole life that one must have a clearly defined role in order to be of service to this world. What I have come to realize is that, at the end of the day, it is all about intent. There is no way to know for sure what type of impact the work you do, no matter what it may be, is going to have on the world at large. I mean, sure, if you are one of those doctors that saves little kids, then you do have a tangible way to measure the direct impact you have on the lives of specific people. But this is true of any position in which service to others is a basic requirement, from schoolteacher to sandwich shop employee. The physician, however - despite being well-trained and highly educated - cannot know with one-hundred-percent certainty that the procedure they are about to perform will be carried out successfully. No matter which way you slice it, there is no way to guarantee what the outcome of any deed will be with absolute confidence; until it plays out in real time, it is all unknown.
Intent, then, becomes the deciding factor in determining the charge of one’s karma: if one’s intent is to bring some sort of healing into this aching world of ours, to nurture the most frightened of souls, to (quoting Whitman again) “cheer up slaves and horrify despots”, to shine a little light into the darkness of our collective despair, then positive karma is bound to pull one’s life up to the land from which one’s heartbeat derives its rhythm.
On the flipside, if one’s intent is to trick or confuse the masses, to fill them with fears stemming from falsehoods or, equally as rotten, provide them with a disingenuous sense of comfort, then negative karma will drag one down to the depths of the fiery inferno that consumes whatever still brings consolation to one’s charbroiled spirit.
It is crucial, now more than ever, to make one’s intentions abundantly clear as we inch closer to the point of no return - for once the battle that commences the inevitable revolution takes place, there will be no time to pick a side. To quote the legendary Gil-Scot Heron (one of my personal heroes, and not just because the word “hero” is in his name): “The revolution will not be televised...the revolution will be live.”
Better get hip quick, jack, ‘fore you get your wig split back.