I tried to attend a poetry event on Saturday afternoon, but the weather was against me.
The rain came accompanied by lightning strikes, high winds, falling branches, flash-flooded roads, sleet, and a little hail, all in the space of two and a half hours. I left home only to turn around after three miles. The highway was blocked with traffic piled up due to various “storm-related events” (said the weather sites). Actually, I was grateful for the storm, since our region has been unusually dry and even warm for April–my trees, shrubs, meadow, and perennials needed rain. And upon my return, I got back to reading books of poetry. This past week these included collections by Marilyn Chin, Elizabeth Metzger, Grant Clauser, Jennifer Franklin, and Natalie Diaz. Some wonderful work there.
Through these books of poems, I also gleaned lots of interesting information. That’s something many people who claim not to like poetry don’t understand: you can learn about so many things through poetry! Poems contain fascinating facts, intriguing perspectives, tons of social and cultural observations, vocabulary and terms I would not have known about otherwise…poems have been the impetus for me to learn more about astronomy, theology, historical events and people, the geography and topography of the earth and its oceans, the life cycles of insects and plants, how metal shops operate, how to catch fish or tie a fly, what it is like to “live with a disability,” how the process of dying has differed from era to era and place to place, what it is like to reside in a war zone, the traditions of people whose backgrounds differ from my own, and other so-called “non-fictional” information.
Facts, in other words. Poems may inhere in the emotional or intellectual realm in many ways, but they also can–and often do–inform. They contain facts as well as multitudes. If people did not get so hung up on trying to decode a secret meaning behind everything they encounter that appears to be a poem, they might be surprised at how much they could learn from such (usually) brief texts. Yes, it might help to look up a word or a reference or two. That can get a reader started on a whole trail of interesting and valuable knowledge, widening the worldview, changing the perspective.
It may even lead a person to recognize that facts can change depending on point of view. Contemporary science acknowledges this, but most human beings haven’t accepted it yet. Anyway, this points to one reason poetry has often been considered unconventional, subversive, even dangerous or radical: Poems can challenge the status quo of what is accepted, received, unquestioned in society’s knowledge base. Terrifying the authorities by means of information.
Go for it. Read a book of poems.
Coming up in May, I’ll be featured once again at GoggleWorks in Reading PA, 6 pm on May 4th…it has been awhile since I was there (2012), and I look forward to it!