I was asked recently to speak about poetry to a class of students in an elementary school. As a “real”, living and breathing poet, the teacher asked if I could talk to the students about what poetry is like “out there” in the “real world”, and, more especially, to explain why people write poetry. The experience had me thinking about what it means to write poetry. Why do people write it? Why do I write it?
I’m not sure I could ever truly answer the question as to why people write poetry. There may be many reasons for many people. I can only speak for myself then, and my response to these questions links to what is fundamental about humanity. Human beings are creative beings. We are here to express ourselves, in whatever form appeals to us. For some of us, that might be creating the most beautiful and delicious cake. For others, it might be creating a community organization that helps alleviate or address some kind of social problem. Of course, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses this idea in her book, Big Magic, where she talks about each of us finding our own creative outlet, and nurturing that, regardless of whether or not we become professional cake decorators, singers, or writers. I agree that we each have our talents, and that we should nurture them. But from a deeper, more philosophical perspective, what does it mean that we all need to create? And, more to the point, why have I chosen poetry as my form of expression, and self-expression?
Writing poetry is an art. It enables the expression of ideas, emotions, thoughts, and questions. It challenges us. It asks us to stop for a few minutes, and to see the world through another’s eyes, to see things from a different perspective. It is an art form that requires precision. Regardless of the form of poetry, there is little room for error or inattention to detail. That’s because it is so exposed. The words in a poem must fit together, must flow in a way that makes sense, or in a way that opens us up to new emotions, new ideas.
I write poetry because I have to. Poetry is the means through which I express my creativity. It allows me to speak about the world around me, and to shape those thoughts into a wondrous art form that depends on language, my muse. Poetry is also musical, and captures rhythms in the printed or spoken word. And music is also fundamental to human nature. Whether we like rock, hip hop, classical, jazz or blues, we all share in the connection that music provides for us.
So, why write poetry? To engage with life, with art, with humanity. What better reasons could there be?