My friend and my teacher of poetry, Peter Levitt, once said that “poetry is a conversation between strangers.” I like that thought. Our lives get extraordinarily busy. Kurt Vonnegut mocks us in Cat’s Cradle referring to our cultural essence simply as “busy – busy – busy.” Or as Wordsworth wrote in lines many of us were required to memorize in high school: “The world is too much with us;/ late and soon/ getting and spending,/ we lay waste our powers.”Our lives, we see, focus upon “getting and spending” and being “busy, busy, busy.” The great 20th century American poet, William Carlos Williams, once, now rather famously, put it this way: “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there. So what is found there and what is it we lack that causes us to die miserably? What is it we lack in our lives?”For one, I believe it is quiet. Being busy, busy, busy, while getting and spending disallows the quiet all creative thinking requires. In addition, we lack the time and space to commune with our inner selves. As the Welsh poet William Henry Davies writes: “A poor life this is if, full of care/ we have no time to stand and stare.” I, for one, find that reading and writing poetry helps take me to that place of quiet – if I will allow myself the time.Also, I find that reading over and over old favorite poems, and constantly examining new poems, helps me make life connections and helps me to slow down enough to view my own life rather than being so busy, busy, busy, that it all passes by without reflection and awareness of what it is that is passing by. As W.C. Fields said, “It’s a tough life; a man is lucky to get out of it alive.” Actually, a man or woman is lucky to live it fully alive. Poetry, I believe, helps us to be alive and to be more fully conscious of our life as we live it. The unexamined life is certainly better than no life at all, but equally certain it is that the examined life allows for more possibilities, for more awareness of choices available, and for a greater understanding of life in all its subtle and complex dimensions. At the end of her poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks poignantly: “Tell me,/ what it is you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?” “That is,” as the Bard did say, “the question.”
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