Happy World Poetry Day! You Don’t Hate Poetry
Put poets Carmen Maria Machado and Ada Limón in the same room and what do you get? A quote, haphazardly ripped from Elle magazine, taped to my college-apartment fridge. In her recent interview discussing the power of language, horses, and her invitation to be the 24th poet laureate of the United States—and the first ever Latina laureate—Limón admits,“I feel wholeheartedly that poetry isn’t going to stop the climate crisis and poetry is not going to save the world. But it has the potential to ground us again in what it is to be fully human.”
A close friend of mine recently confided in me, as if it were a curse put upon her, that she “hated poetry.” She told me that it made her feel small, that the words never made sense. I considered this, thought about how in middle school a lump would form in my throat when we were assigned to write an original limerick or haiku about the last day of school and how my words never felt like my own. This is not how I think about poetry anymore—poetry, now, is the line before me at Walgreens, a girl with dragonfly tattoo buying laundry detergent on the first day of spring. Poetry is a nightstand and poetry is its contents: green lamp, green cup, Rooney novel, lighter, litter, knocked over by the cats later. Poetry is a way of knowing the world around you, or at the very least, a way of accepting the world around you while you wait for the knowing to come. Poetry matters because it is in everything.
So, I said all of this, in one way or another, and I promised her, “You don’t hate poetry.” A few days later she handed me a torn piece of paper with Limón’s defense of poetry on it and said “I don’t totally get it, but I think this is what you mean.” Every morning since, World Poetry Day or not, I stand before my little fridge and read that quote to myself. Like fairies, I think if you deny the existence of poetry, it dies. World Poetry Day, then, is just as much a celebration of words and of Tennyson, Dickinson, and Eliot as much as it is a celebration of the enduring act of being human.Poetry has been, and always will be, an act of survival—in the same way dreaming has helped humans evolutionarily by simulating threats, thus preparing us to fight for survival, poetry is a space to claw, relinquish, remind, and invent outside the bounds of real life. Poetry is everywhere because it matters. We need poetry to remind us of what we've lost, but also as Limón says, of everything we have as well. Put me in the same room as Carmen Maria Machado and Ada Limón and I’d talk about my fridge. That’s why poetry matters. Let us continue to appreciate and celebrate poetry in all its forms on this day and beyond.