Okay so first of all, yes, I know, I’ve already missed the Tuesday/Thursday timing of this weeks blogs but for good reason… sort of. Things got a bit stressful this week and my brain got a bit fuzzled so before I knew it Tuesday was over, then before I knew it again Thursday was over. So here we are, Friday lunchtime writing a blog. As yesterday was National Poetry Day and as I’m feeling especially appreciative of the medium of poetry at the moment, I want to make this blog about Poetry; what it is, what it does, why we should keep it alive. Call it, if you will, a much more essayistic blog post.
“Painting is silent poetry. Poetry is painting that speaks” – Plutarch
I rather like this quote from Roman Essayist and Biographer Plutarch, because not only does it speak of why I love Art so much but it bluntly defines Poetry as an Art form “that speaks”. ‘Speaking’ here, I think, is both literal and metaphorical. It’s not saying Art is Poetry that does nothing but stand there and look cryptically pretty. In a sense he’s saying that Art is a primarily visual Poetry that within its many layers asks the observer to examine the poetic truths behind it. It’s also saying that Poetry is a much more visceral and verbal Art form that, really, is meant to be read allowed to appreciate its true genius and rhythm. What comes from being a speaker or a listener of Poetry, especially that of which is read aloud is, what I like to call, The Visceral Effect.
It is the central component that allows us to identify a piece of writing as being Poetry. It is the moment a piece of writing finds its way into the very core of ones internal system. That part of our body that isn’t ever defined but that we all know, however invisible it is, resides inside us, right next to the heart. The Visceral Effect doesn’t have to be found in stereotypical, standardised Poetry. It can be discovered in pretty much any piece of creative work that presents itself in a much more Poetic manner. For example many indie/folk bands and artists such as Bon Iver, Keaton Henson and Amber Run have some incredibly Poetic lyrics. Moreover they accompany these lyrics with intensely thought out melodies that elicit this undeniable Visceral Effect. Amber Run, in particular, has one moment in their mesmerising song 5am that goes like this:
“We’ve got work in the morning
But it’s nearly 5 AM.
Is this really what we envisioned?
We won’t be 21 again.” – Amber Run (5am)
The intention of many of these bands is to tap into the centre of your brains focus, and connect it with the subsequent areas within your heart and soul in order to create this heart-breaking and hysteric Visceral Effect.
When I first properly clocked onto this songs tense beauty, I was sat in my friends house during a rather on/off moment of this month and we were just listening to songs. 5am takes a little while to start, it’s identifiable and also subtle elements creep in slowly at first before leading to a crescendo of emotion and significance. Yet it is not the music that seems to do much, it’s the pulse of our blood running through our veins, and the beating of our heart as we listen to this story, that gradually becomes our own. The crescendo of music gets louder and less avoidable as we start to realise our own personal significance to it, it’s relevance to our own story. It is at this point they sing the lines quoted above and it is both an emotional and a somatic experience when it arrives. It is The Visceral Effect that jumps upon you as you realise you have work the next morning, and your childhood days are behind you so what now? Is this everything “we envisioned”? Poetry. That is Poetry, the real crux of what it should be and what it should make you feel. Those 4 lines, that one stanza, if you will, could be sufficient on it’s own. It would elicit a similar feeling but instead it’s joined with other stanzas that make it even more astonishing.
“Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.” – Audre Lorde
As the African-American writer, feminist and activist Audre Lorde posits in the quote above, Poetry is an important element in the progression of the future and the possibility of change. This is why Poetry and in particular the need to find and experience The Visceral Effect should never die. A lot of the times we find ourselves being stubborn, it doesn’t matter what others say they are wrong and that is the way it stays. Except every so often the world deals us a card of inspiration and of fortune and it is our own decision whether to take it or not. Poetry and these Visceral Effects hit us so hard that we can do nothing but feel like we should immediately plan a change. Whether it is a change of action or a change of mind we cannot deny that it happens. Just as an example of the importance and the power of this Visceral Effect I’m going to place 3 stanzas from separate poems and highlight the moment the effect happens. Obviously without reading the full poem you won’t get the same feeling so please do go read the whole pieces but it works enough for me to explain:
- Still I Rise – Maya Angelou:
“Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
(This poem is a classic that everyone should know. It speaks of pride against doubt and cherishes present over past but just at that point “I am the dream and the hope of the slave” it becomes even more powerful than we ever imagined. Speaking of realising that, especially with those coming from black backgrounds, your life is a miracle. Your life should continue to be a miracle, and you are here to not only make yourself happy and proud and your parents proud but your ancestors that fought for you to be where you are.)
- ‘If People Were Rain’ – John Green (Looking for Alaska)
“So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk,
thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane.”
(Yes, this isn’t a typical poem, but when I read this moment in Looking for Alaska I decided it was one of my favourite books of all time. I adore it, and I adore this line. It just narrates that moment where one goes from crushing to falling completely in love. That pure dramatic exaggeration the mind besets upon us.)
There are so many other poems I could pick but it would be far too autonomous and sometimes you just have to feel it for yourself. Poems and in particular The Visceral Effect it creates allows us to see and feel things we never would have without it. That new discovered sight allows us to live, or at least strive to live a better life, a less limited life and a fulfilling one. Bar that it just allows us to feel and that is never a bad thing, whatever our minds tell us. Feeling reminds us that we are alive.