Thanks to Dorothy Bendel, fellow-D.C. poet, for today's beautiful post on finding, noticing and experiencing the poetry all around us.
Dorothy Bendel is a writer, poet, and defender of the Oxford comma. She is the author of Expatriate (Finishing Line Press). Her most recent work can be found in Green Mountains Review, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and Microchondria II: 42 More Short Short Stories Collected by Harvard Book Store. She currently lives in Washington, DC where she writes, teaches, and ingests alarming amounts of caffeine. Follow her procrastination here: @DorothyBendel
The Poetry Around Us
Every year, particularly around National Poetry Month, the same headlines are resurrected: What is the value of modern poetry? Do Americans care about poetry anymore? It is as common as the annual proclamations regarding "the death of the novel."
Last month, I attended an exhibition at the Finnish Embassy in DC titled "Trees are Poetry." Black and white photographs were arranged around the edges of a large and airy room, framing the massive windows that center on the lush grounds behind the sleek embassy building. These images were paired with the reflections of Finnish poets expressing the beauty and music of nature: Bare trees in winter that nestle into snowy landscapes, their veins visible to the world.
Seeing these photographs and reading the poetry inspired by their subjects, one might wonder if the Finnish are more acutely attuned to the beauty that surrounds them. In The District, we savor the annual return of the cherry blossoms, a cause for celebration that attracts visitors from across the country.
As much as I count myself among the sakura-obsessed, having the good fortune of living in Japan for a few years and developing this deep love, I wonder if we sometimes limit this sort of transcendental appreciation to what is deemed "the natural world." Surely, there is poetry to be found under the majestic arm of a blossoming branch, although there are many more places to look.
I see poetry in the way that my son's small hand fits perfectly in mine.
I see it in the way the crowds move like schools of fish along the metro tunnels.
I see it the the lost M&Ms that bleed their colors on a rainy street.
I see it in the way the city glows at dusk, burning out the stress of the day.
Keats wrote: “The Poetry of the earth is never dead.” I wholeheartedly agree, but I also think that this idea extends to all that inhabits the earth, those structures and moments that are crafted by humanity. To exclude the other side of what makes our earth our home is to exclude others from recognizing the poetry of the everyday.
April is upon us and the questioning will commence, but we must remember: Poetry has many functions and the power to say the unsayable. It is within the places outside of our traditional idea of poetry where readers wait, searching for poetry that speaks to them. To widen our appreciation of poetry, we must open our eyes to all of the places that poetry is found.