This isn't the first time I've made an overture, but poetry has remained elusive, like that well-spoken girl at church who wears all the clothes you wish you could look good in, reads the same books you read, but looks right through you every time you walk up to say a hopeful "Hi!". I keep sidling up to poetry and saying "hi!", hoping this time it'll decide to speak back. It almost never does.
This current go-round hasn't been any different; I'm taking an online class about Literature and Mental Health, which I didn't expect to be mostly about poetry. They keep talking about how reading poetry slows you down, how the cadence soothes the mind, then they offer a poem which is supposed to make me realize how good it is to pause and smell the roses. Except, best as I can understand, the poemis communicating this message by telling me what a waste it is to live a life where you DON'T have time to pause and smell the roses. And I'm reading it on my phone, between this place and that, too busy to notice the flowers I'm walking past. So now I just feel like a failure, a sense which is compounded by the fact that the cadence of the poem sets my teeth on edge, rather than soothing me. Why don't you just write the words all the way across the page? My mind screams for the three millionth time.
Then, there's today. "Talking about poetry with Ben Okri", this video's titled. I sigh. It's another 25 minute video, about poetry. Awesome.
But then, Ben reads his poem:
The World Is Rich
They tell me that the world
Is rich with terror. I say the world is rich With love unfound. It’s inside us and all around.
Terror is there, no doubt Violence, hunger and drought; Rivers that no longer Flow to the sea. It’s the shadow of humanity.
There’s terror in the air. And we have put it there. We have made God into an enemy, Have made God into a weapon, A poverty, a blindness, an army.
But the world is rich with Great love unfound: Even in the terror There is love, twisted round And round. Set it free.
River, flow to the sea.
Go ahead. Read it again. Maybe again. Because it's amazing.
Ben Okri then went on to talk about the value of literature, especially when confronted with a world as full of terror as ours is:
"When you talk about literature...they're not turning to a comfort blanket in times of stress like that. What they're turning to-- They're turning to literature because it's...one of the ways that we know most in our times as a way of getting us back to the inner life. Terror, terrorism, news stories, horror stories on the front pages of newspapers, the fear and the stress-- what it all does is it constantly makes us live on the surface and the external aspects of ourselves, and that increases our stress.
And what the best literature does is it returns to us our quietness, because reading, especially reading privately, actually is an act of consciousness. It's an act of the empowerment of your truest individuality. Your soul, your mind, your heart, your spirit, your being. It's given that its primacy again, it's given that its nourishment.
One of the worst things that a climate of tyranny and a climate of poverty does to people is that it robs them of precisely the nourishment of that inner life, the life of the spirit, the life of the imagination, the life of the heart, the life of stillness.
[Interviewer:] Do you think the best of poetry can restore that or bring us back to that?
It reminds us. The best poetry reminds us. Something really wonderful happens when you read."
When I occasionally find poetry to love, it's poetry that tells a story: a story worth feeling. I'm seeking something to nourish me, to empower my soul, my mind, my deepest being. To remind me that the world is rich with love unfound.
That search, that desire, is also what drives me to write.
What about you? What do you look for when you read? How does reading help you? Does it? If you write, what drives you to write?
What is one story you haven't told yet, but should?