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Sometime within the interview, Elizabeth Alexander is asked to read aloud one of her poems, “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe”. The lines that were particularly provocative were “poetry, I tell my students, / is idiosyncratic” (1-2) and “poetry (here I hear myself loudest) / is the human voice, / and are we not of interest to each other?” (17-19). These snippets of her poem shed some truth on the nature of poetry, especially in the relationships between the poet and his or her readers. Each and every poem is idiosyncratic; they all have particular quirks that make them distinct and individual. Though Alexander also says poetry is “not all love, love, love, / and I’m sorry the dog died” (15-16), the quirks present within poetry can personalize even the most standard of love poems.
I particularly enjoy Alexander’s idea of poems being idiosyncratic because I find this is a wonderful way for readers to find words to fit the feelings that they had previously been unable to vocalize. Of the thousands of love poems that do not strike a chord in a particular reader, there is that one poem that uses just the right metaphor to describe what they are feeling. At the core, many people are probably going through similar situations: lost loved ones, feelings of loneliness, feelings of elation. Though we might all be seeking the same truth, one standard poem cannot be the sole prescription for our troubles. What resonates with one individual might serve no purpose for another. The prospect of finding a poem that is just quirky enough to consume you is reason enough to pursue poetry reading to the full extent.
I recall two poems from my semester studying poetry in college: “Sonnet 130”, by Shakespeare, and Harryette Mullen’s “Dim Lady”. The very famous sonnet by Shakespeare talks about a woman with whom the speaker does not consider perfectly beautiful. He writes, “my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” (1). The point of this poem is to note that, though his lover is not perfect in beauty or grace, he still loves her very much. “Dim Lady” begins with the line “my honeybunch’s peepers are nothing like neon” (1). This line is essentially the same as Shakespeare’s first line. “Dim Lady” was written with “Sonnet 130” in mind, and mimics the themes while also using contemporary diction and crude comparisons. The message of these two poems is the same, yet I resonate much more with Harryette Mullen’s approach. I felt as though I could connect with this poem much easier than I could with “Sonnet 130”.
Not every time will two poems be identical in content and still have the ability to differentiate though subtle quirks, but many have the ability to express certain ideas in ways that have never before been expressed. It is remarkable that a poet can, at any moment in time, write down a phrase that has never been written down before in the history of humankind. Of course, when approaching this idea practically, one could say that anyone could string together a bunch of words in a nonsensical order and achieve that same feat, but the incredible thing about it is that poets can do this while also speaking to a reader on a very personal and emotional level. What’s even better is that new poetry is being created right now and will soon have the ability to touch someone.
Elizabeth Alexander’s poem mentioned earlier says that poetry is “the human voice”, an idea that has worldly applications that reach much farther than probably expected. Alexander asks at the conclusion of her poem, “are we not of interest to each other?” A quick look at the progression of social media over the course of a few years will give an answer. Poetry, much like social media, is an avenue for ideas to be spread to others. Unlike social media, poetry does not have to adhere to a 140 character limit, or abide the etiquette of Facebook. It does not have to put on a mask; it can express thoughts and feelings without restraint or timidity. In our world, I hope to see poetry as the new form of social media. Social media for a society that wants to connect on a personal level. Poetry is a necessity for the world, and has the ability to touch anyone, at any moment.