Because of the mystery and the magic. (Or, why I believe poetry matters: A guest post for Seth Haines)

I sit in the teacher’s chair before a carpet packed with five and six year olds, all sitting crisscross applesauce. They stare at me with expectation. I am August’s mom, the real-live-author, there to tell them about poetry.

“A poem is like a painting or a sculpture made out of words,” I say. “Have you ever had a big feeling and it made you want to cry really hard or hit something?” About eighteen hands shoot up at this question. (Me too, kids. Me too.) “Poetry takes a big feeling or a big idea and shows it in a small, careful way.”

“Sometimes I have big feelings.” (All the time. Big feelings are my best friends. For better or worse.) “And when I have them, the best thing I can do is put the feeling into words. I understand my feelings better after I write them into a poem.”

Five of the Kindergarteners are waving hands with vigor because they really need to tell me all about their big feelings and all the times they’ve hit their siblings. I nod my head with compassion and try to move on. “Poetry is like a painting because it says something big in a small space. Poetry shows us the world around us in new ways.”

I stare at my son who is beaming because his mom is sitting in the teacher’s chair. He is beaming because I am an expert in something, even though on the way to school he assured me that poetry is super boring.

“Yeah, buddy. Sometimes it’s boring for me too,” I said. “But sometimes it’s magic.” I’m sure he rolled his eyes in the back seat. But, right now, he’s bursting with pride in me.

It’s true, what I said to him in the car. I love poetry because of the magic. I love it because sometimes I need to be given new words and new images and new gentle rhythms. I need to be reminded of the beauty of this world, and poetry gives me a different vision. Poetry adjusts my lens, my paradigm. It helps me notice what is more real than the to-do lists and anxieties of my daily life.

The world is both exquisite and foul. It is both wonderful and tragic. And poems somehow give me the space to hold the weight of the bothness.

Poetry gives me the form to hold the wild sweetness of my son on that carpet in his Kindergarten classroom, gazing at me with pride and love. Poetry gives me the form to acknowledge that I can hold his innocent pride in me and still recognize the coming loss: that he will grow up, that this moment will pass, that he will mature and become a man. He loves me desperately in this bright moment but soon (so soon!) he will fall in love with another woman and make a life with her. He will have a job and responsibilities and he will have to remind himself to send me a happy birthday card. His blonde hair will go brownish and eventually grayish and I will die and (please God) he will bury me with tears . . .


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