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The first day of my spring poetry class, we spent the initial few minutes jotting down what
came to mind when we thought of poetry; then we went around the room sharing a word or
phrase from our responses. For months I had been keeping a small notebook of little drawings
and short poems, so when it came time to share what I associated with poetry I spoke up from
spot in the circle, saying, “Doodles.” When asked to expound on my response, I talked about my
little notebook and my habit of jotting down little poetic truths and pencil-scratch doodles when
they came to me throughout the day.

Elizabeth Alexander was right in saying that poetry is “a poor people’s art form.” She
spoke of how a writer must have mass quantities of time in order to write a novel, and how
poetry is not so. You only need a moment to scribble down a poem. She shared the story of a
poet who claimed to write her best poetry at the dinner table with her kids. The poet believed that
she could “snatch” time to write in the midst of her own experiences. I would argue that we all
have that ability to write from within our daily routine. I think of the conditions expressed in
marriage vows. “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” anyone
can write poetry. Inevitably, poetry is wedded to the human experience as a means of expressing
it and as an attempt at understanding it.

We saw this in my spring poetry course as we studied the W.S. Merwin poem, “To the
Old”. In reading the poem, I felt myself step into the tired shoes of an old man reflecting on the
process of his own aging and on moments from his youth. He describes fish he watched swim in
a stream one summer. The imagery he creates with shimmering words brings the scene to life for
his audience: “to see the transparent fish flash beneath my face” (13-14). Reading his words, I
thought of trips to Allsop Park as a kid where we would tromp through the little creek there,
catching crawdads and minnows. In an instant, I had related to a man over a summer stream
scene despite decades of difference in age because of what he wrote down one day. Poetry
allows us to connect. It’s a “poor people’s art” and an art of transcendence with which people
can rise above not only fiscal divides, but also age discrepancies, gender distinctions, and
cultural differences.

In the interview, Alexander spoke of how cultures would pass on their stories through
song. She views songs as synonymous with poetry because she doesn’t feel that any poet would
write with the hope that their words would “fall flat.” Alexander furthers the connection that
she’s drawn between songs and poetry by claiming that poems are similar to songs in the
emotional response they elicit from those who encounter them. I would tend to agree with her
argument that songs have an emotional effect on people, especially good songs. That kind of
response is universal in the sense that you don’t have to be of a certain class or race or age to feel
it. Emotion is human, and poetry’s relationship with it makes poetry innately human.

In her interview, Alexander states that, “poetry has always existed in a communal
context” and I tend to agree. Over just nine words, I connected to a Pulitzer prize winner through
an age discrepancy of decades. We didn’t need a novel to connect us, just a nostalgic instant
captured in less than a sentence. Poetry is a matter of community because we all have a stake in
it. All you need to write and understand poetry is to be human. The notion of community that
Alexander discusses revolves around the sharing and the understanding of human experiences,
and I, in accordance with what I believe her to have said, see poetry as a means of doing that for
the “poor people”, the rich people, and the other people in between.