In The Right to Write, Julia Cameron describes writing as a conversation, one that “offers a different and more engaging way to look at things.” She then quotes poet James Nove, who says all of us have this “poetic vision” if we would just “give ourselves permission to see the poetry that surrounds us.”
The question I ask, even if Nove and Cameron don’t, is what is this poetry that surrounds us? Or asked another way, could God speak in poetry? I don’t mean “could God speak through the poetry that people write or have written in the past.” I do mean something else: is there a poetry that is intrinsic to creation, a rhyme, a meter, a narrative that speaks to all of us, whether we hear it or not (or choose to hear it or not)?
And if the answer to that question is yes, could what we know as poetry be a reflection of that “divine poetry,” even if a pale and fragile one?
The first poetry I can remember reading or having read to me was children’s rhymes. The first poetry I can recall reading and writing about in school was Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. I can remember having to discover Masters on my own; my teacher for American literature believed Jacqueline Susann had written the great American novel with The Valley of the Dolls, published the summer before my junior-level course.
In college, two basic literature courses were required for everyone during the sophomore year, English 55 and 56, which was mostly American literature. How many millions of students had to write papers on “Young Goodman Brown” and “Barn Burning?” How many times did I have to proof papers written on those two stories for fraternity brothers? English majors, however, didn’t take English 55 and 56; they took 51 and 52, the literature of Britain. For those students boneheaded enough, they could substitute 51 and 52 for 55 and 56. Nobody did, especially not journalism majors who had to contend with a professor for introductory journalism (taken the same time as the English courses) who handed out automatic Fs like peppermints.
Only one person I knew actually chose to take British literature.
So instead of “Barn Burning,” I met Beowulf and Chaucer; Shakespeare and Milton; the great essayists of the 18th century; Wordsworth, Keats Shelley and Coleridge; Tennyson; Hardy and Housman; and Eliot. It’s only now that I realize that the lion’s share of what I learned in those two courses was poetry. And I still have the textbooks we used – the two-volume set of the Norton Anthology of English Literature.
More than a decade later, I started reading the American poets, because I was on the speechwriting team at work and it was actually something smart to do – read and study poetry so that you could apply and adapt the rhythm, meter and flow to speeches. (No one does this anymore.) (That’s why so few speeches today are memorable.)
And then, last year, I started writing poetry. I’m not sure why; I’d been reading contemporary poets for some time. I think it has something to do with growing older, at least for me. Some of what I’ve done is bad, and some is – not bad. But I’m learning how to be better at it, and I’m learning some other things, too.
To write poetry is to believe in the symphony of life, life individual and life collective.
To write poetry is to believe in the underlying order of all creation, and to believe that the order can be understood.
To write poetry is an affirmation of faith.
To write poetry is, as Julia Cameron says, to listen with the heart.
And to listen to the poetry that surrounds us.
Over at the High Calling Blogs, Laura Boggess is leading a discussion of Cameron’s The Right to Write. Take a look and see what others are saying, commenting and posting. Last week’s discussion was about the time lie (as in, you never can find the time to write). This week's discussion is about inviting the muse to tea.
In February, I wrote a post here called “In Defense of Poetry.”
L.L. Barkat's "Julia Cameron Meets ProBLogger."
Cassandra Frear's "Living With My Writer."
"Mood Altering" by Nancy Russell Kourmoulis.
Nancy Rosback's "Thoughts and Dreams."
"Playtime: are you doing what you love?" by Tess at Anchors and Masts.
Monica Sharman's "The Sincerity of Pretense."