I don’t have a driver’s license. Apparently that’s an odd statement to be able to make when you’re 22 years old. I know how to drive, and I have driven, but it terrifies me and isn’t a skill that I have built to a level of competency. I also can’t change a tire. These are the kinds of skills we are pushed to have because they are convenient, which makes total sense.
But there are other things you should be able to do—things that would also be convenient, but in ways that don’t particularly translate into the modern American sense of the word. For example, writing a poem.
Look, I’m not an amazing poet, but I do like doing it and I have focused a lot of time getting better at it while I’ve been on campus. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they hate poetry, or they don’t understand it, or they just aren’t good at it, or some combination of all of those things.
I don’t think any of those elements disvalue poetry for those people though. When a poem is crafted, it has its own spirit given to it by its author. It carries emotion in it, sure, but it can also bring along the senses. There are morals in there, but rather than just getting a lesson on how to behave you get the complex struggle that comes along with balancing those morals.
There are a lot of other things that a poem can do, and when this is all coming from the inner workings of a person’s mind, it can be rather intimate. That’s why poetry is more important to Americans right now than ever: we have intimacy issues.
It is hard to relate to a person that is different from you when that includes six billion others, all begging to be understood. Getting inside heads and feeling for those situations are hard when you can’t realistically project yourself onto another person. But poetry gives us that window into another person’s head. It allows us to see and understand things that would otherwise be too difficult.
If you need a pretty modern, pretty famous example of this, go search Youtube for Neil Hilborn reading his poem “OCD.” I won’t get into a huge analysis of it, but the poem is basically his experience with a woman as a person with obsessive compulsive disorder.
You don’t have to like the poem or even Hilborn’s performance. What is most important is the fact that by the end of video, you feel a twinge of pain. For at least a moment, you have experienced what it’s like to have OCD and to fall in love, and it hurts. An inspiration of actual emotion that you will never get from statistics, or the news, or a blog, not like this.
Nine million people have watched that video. If we assume that five percent of those viewers had probably never given a thought to that kind of struggle then those 450,000 people have just been positively enlightened. That is the power of the poem.
I don’t want to pound the idea too hard. Go take a class with Janie Miller. Learn to tell people that you love them or hate them in a way that is equally beautiful. And remember, actions may be louder than words, but sometimes being really loud isn’t the goal.