I don’t usually do this, but I thought I’d let you all peek behind the curtain this week. Maybe give you a little taste of my initial thoughts when I found out I’d be writing about poetry. Okay, kids. Buckle up, here we go:
“I got nothin’.”
That pretty much summed up my initial draft.
Now for all of you out there who are ready to take up your collected works of Walt Whitman or Carl Sandburg and drive me into the forest night, I ask for just a few more moments of your time. I have mad respect for poetry. I love its economy of words, the rhythm of phrasing, and the demands of form that rival even journalism in its need for precision. If you’re wading into the lyrical waters of poetry, you better have a talent for word choice and understand exactly what you want to say and how to say it.
Being a poet is a tough row to hoe, and I fully understand and accept that I am not up to this particular challenge. Such is life. I’ll stick to writing jokes about rednecks and racists. I love poking a stick at our nation’s Illiterati. (Those who are willfully so, not the underprivileged. The former can go f*&k themselves, the latter need all the help we can provide.)
I am a lover of words, and as such, I do have a few poetry collections of my own lying around. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit I don’t read them regularly. Outside of song lyrics, the closest I ever get to verse is stringing together a series of rhyming sentences that I can use to annoy my children. (Because the sanctioned use of psychological torture is one of the perks of being a dad.)
In truth, I have an uneasy relationship with poetry because it intimidates me. I have no idea what does or doesn’t make for a good poem. I logged many a college credit hour on my way to two different degrees, but not once did I step foot in a classroom where English was being taught. It’s not meant as a boast, just the recognition of a blind spot in my own education. One that makes it difficult for me to have meaningful conversations about poetry, English literature, and all things Shakespearean.
But despite this admitted shortcoming, there is at least one lesson I have taken from poetry: words matter. Choice, tone, intent, all of it.
Choose wisely the things you say and the things you write because once you send those words out into the ether they’re not coming back. Those words are little windows into your soul, and like actions, they can tell us a lot about who you are. Who you hate, who you love, to whom are you negligently indifferent. All those things lurk between the spaces in your sentences, so try and understand what you’re putting out there.
Because words matter.