I enjoy stories, novels, journalism, and other forms of writing, but I love poetry because it is, by far, the sexiest genre. In what other genre of writing is there so much attention paid to stresses and unstresses? Assonance and alliteration? Repetition and modulation, couplets and quatrains, form and content—saying these words are enough to make my cheeks flush. Maybe I don’t love poetry, maybe it’s lust. No, it’s love, I’m certain of it.
I've loved poetry from the very first time I heard a nursery rhyme. One of my favorites was: I rode a cock horse to Banbury Cross/ To see a fine lady upon a white horse/ With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes/ She shall have music wherever she goes. I didn't know what a cock horse was or where Banbury Cross was, but I wanted to have music wherever I went, and poetry has never let me down. I grew up in a very religious family, and I have come to think of poetry as prayer but not to God but to myself. It is a way for the outer person to address the inner person and make something true and beautiful (I love Keats) out of this mutilated world (Zagajewski).
I’ve never done cocaine, but it’s the one drug whose short-terms side effects sound the closest to what reading and writing poetry does to me – provide a rapid-onset, rewarding high. A good poem increases my heart rate. A good poem makes me see the world anew. A good poem answers questions my subconscious didn’t even know it was asking. Sometimes a poem is so good, I pull it apart, play with it, memorize it, and memorialize it, trying to understand how the poet used words to create magic. And, then, there’s the writing. There’s that moment when you’re sitting at dinner or in a movie theater and a thought or an image bombards you and you get jittery because you need to get it out of your system so you disappear and pull that scrap of paper from your purse or your cell phone from your pocket and you release until you get IT OUT. I don’t want to say I’m addicted, but without poetry, my world would be a black-and-white blurry photo that I would have to squint at because I forgot my glasses.
Poetry is the fastest luxury vehicle on the dealer’s lot. Think about this: If you paid attention to everything everybody said, you’d go crazy, right? But when you hear someone say, “My fiancé is in New York” or “I just was talking to my fiancée, and she said such and so,” you can’t help but look and say to yourself, “Wow, lucky fellow” or “Wait, you have a fiancée?” Already I’m tired of the extra “e.” Why can’t other languages be as dumb as ours. Also, what’s the point of getting engaged? When I asked Barbara to marry me, I said, “Would you rather have a big ring or go to Paris?” and she said, “Où est mon valise!” Next thing you know, we were tramping down the Boulevard St. Germain and up the Boulevard St. Michel and sampling oysters, mussels, prawns, lobsters, and squid, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes as we did so. Okay, now you tell me: how are you going to get from here to there except in a poem?
I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, and PTSD for years, and before poetry, I was lost and doing anything I could to self-destruct. I came close, too, a decade ago, when I sent myself through a windshield and the doctors told my mother that I was going to die, and if not that, then that I wasn’t going to wake up from the coma, and if not that, then that I wasn’t going to walk again. (Spoiler alert: I’m alive and I walk now.) I remember the first creative writing class I took in 2009. The first poem I ever wrote was about driving back for a check-up on some surgery stuff that went wrong the previous summer, and even though I didn’t understand poetry yet, the teacher scribbled “This is good, come see me,” and from there, all of this trauma and pain exploded out of me in the most exciting time of my life, in these tidal waves of realizing that I had a voice and that on paper, I could turn myself into something of value. I was talking to a therapist about this recently—after years of study and craft, when I sink into a poem that’s working, all my mental blocks and 90mph thoughts and fears come tumbling down and I become so much bigger than myself and then 10 hours later I snap out of it and a poem is there. Poetry lets me step outside of my head and into the skin of the best version of me, someone who is all drama and heart. Poetry silences my obsessive thoughts. Daily it gives me a sense of self and purpose.
When I consider my love for poetry, I consider it with two minds: Why do I love approaching the page as a writer and a reader? In both roles, I realize how language allows me an opportunity to clear my mind. I grew up as a musician and when stage fright got to me, I realized poetry became a new way for me to sing. And as I studied its craft, I realized I come to poetry to make myself understood, which is a selfish delight that I seek when I read: To find ways to say something that hasn't quite been said in a particular way. I get an almost giddiness when "a poem ruins me in the best way." I came to poetry as a reader, delighted over the sensation that once I look up from reading, I feel a bit more connected to the world, to others, as if we're all trying to find the strange music this world has to offer.
The worlds I create in my poetry are always worlds that I carry with me in my daily life, but they only ever render partially and in the rarest of moments. I’m usually not able to share those moments with others. This might not be such an issue if those worlds didn’t feel more real than everything else. They’re so much more sensational and interior. Everything is amplified and sedated and rendered in a way that only I’m capable of, but the great gift of poetry is that when I depict those worlds well, I can share them with others. I don’t get dismissed as being eccentric or weird for falling short of that aspiration in my “real life.” As a reader of poetry, I look for poets who aspire to do something similar, and when I want to escape or find camaraderie for myself being thickly and earnestly immersed in the worlds of others, I go to poetry first.