“Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” — Dylan Thomas
“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” — Robert Frost
“I would define, in brief, the Poetry of words as the Rhythmical Creation of Beauty. Its sole arbiter is taste. With the intellect or with the conscience, it has only collateral relations. Unless incidentally, it has no concern whatever either with duty or with truth.” — Edgar Allan Poe
The room that surrounds the writing of this piece is echoing with the faint audio from the neighbor’s TV, a hammer in the hand of a roommate, and a slow, warm breeze as coffee stains the cup it came in and the breath of the author whose fingers find each of these letters long before you come to read them.
The author has tried to write this piece four times prior to the draft you are currently reading. The first draft read like a eulogy. Knowing that we have debated the mortality rate of Poetry for years now, the author knew this needed to read like a birth certificate; a congratulatory banner pinned together with sturdy brass brads; a homecoming parade complete with grand marshal. Who is the grand marshal—they will ask. You will already know. Because you dreamt it.
Dictionary.com defines poetry as 1. the art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts. 2. literary work in metrical form; verse. 3. prose with poetic qualities. 4. poetic qualities however manifested: the poetry of simple acts and things. 5. poetic spirit or feeling: The pianist played the prelude with poetry. 6. something suggestive of or likened to poetry: the pure poetry of a beautiful view on a clear day.
swear off Poetry
not realizing that
with the same
love affair for
Poetry is the book, it is every word on every page of the book, at the same time Poetry is the entire act of reading. Wherein Poetry is the dream, at the same time Poetry is the entire act of sleeping.
I. Dear Poetry,
You survived another year. Another national month of. Another 365 days of being misunderstood and misread, of being the everything and the nothing all at once, unpredictably poetic, predictably you — mirror; magnifying glass; and shield. In wrestling with your omniscience it can be difficult sometimes for a reader of any age to accept you for everything that you are. Hard sometimes to allow the philosopher to also be the comedian and the barometer.
If we are being honest, there are times when your sermons have not made sense to well-intentioned readers; when your authors were less than relatable, but still we heard you. For you have always found your way through the tempo of ill-counted syllables, or the siren sound of cliches, or the hallows of bloodied metaphors. You were always resilient. Re-imagining yourself in every death followed by each rebirth, whenever the writers of Prose came knocking — looking to write your Last Will and Testament — looking to exploit the contents of your urn and the trail of your ashes.
Can you imagine, how many books they’d have to burn just to watch you die? And yet, year after year The Washington Post — a newspaper of all things — has been drafting your slow eulogy. (Isn’t that poetry though, one declining print medium decrying another?) In spite of that, you burn through. In hip-hop. In voice over. In pop song. In street art. In horoscope. In space.
You have always been the voice of the underdog. You have shone through in bodies we called Emily, Walt, Robert, Edgar, Langston, William, E. E., Maya, Pablo, Oscar, Sylvia, Shel, and then-some, et al. Your existence, almost completely reliant on a vocal minority. You are the closest we as a species have come to pronouncing our unpronounceable truths. Hence this letter.
It must be tough sometimes to hear so many critiques of not just what you are, but why you are. Please know, we need you. Maybe now more than ever. In all your forms. Please, never stop being the articulate, nuanced, exploratory, sassy, hilarious, bold, therapeutic, courageous, critical observation that you are. Even when you’re blinding bright as the sun. Even in the dark. Especially in the dark. Please, don’t ever stop opening my eyes.
I am forever a neanderthal in a cave den. You are forever the cave mouth, the bonfire, and the stories I’ve painted on the walls.
II. The Shape & The Shadow*
a one-act play about the hardships
of living in any dimension.
As if through a window.
He looks like Paolo Roldan.
He might be Paolo Roldan.
I know I’m acute, but I can be obtuse. Watch
me, I’ve seen the way my shadow bends itself
into contortionist, warping it’s length
to show off it’s full potential, to take shape
in search of the right angle—
Remember that plot point in Peter Pan?
The boy, famously played by a woman,
who returns to collect his shadow.
For an instant, almost a different story
about an alternate universe where a shadow
can unhinge itself from it’s source—
The way I can feel my shadow sometimes
at night, plotting its escape from my limitations.
I am from the Greek isos — meaning equal.
I am from the Greek skelos — meaning leg.
I grew up watching every circle get the square.
Watching every ex mark the spot.
Knowing that I just wanted to be right,
that I just needed to align myself.
I have made many great points.
And you called me dunce.
You, pocket squares.
You, circle jerks.
Do we all
look like the spaceship in Asteroids, to you?
What is it that makes you think
all triangles are made alike?
Have you seen my symmetry?
I am the church, I am the steeple
but I am not the doors
and I am not the people—
Sure, I could be compass
but that would mean existing
in someone else’s shape
pulled in every which way
by the weight of the everything,
and is that even how I want to live,
to point others in the right direction?
Though, I do know an awful lot about triangulation.
For Halloween one year, I was a sun dial.
My shadow and I, we told time,
we danced in circles
we told a story as long as the day
and my shadow got to thinking
that maybe we could take flight
but even paper airplanes
are made out of rectangles.
In your childhood bedroom there is a toy box, or a closet, or a drawer filled with tiny trophies. There is a poster or coloring book or a pendent or perhaps there is all three. There’s maybe a fish tank or a shark’s jaw bone or a something in the shape of a race car. Think of all the times you traced that childhood space with your body and your drama and your lack of understanding for what was really happening in this life. That — is Anis Mojgani.
In your backyard there is a pile of dry leaves, that you peeled away for knowledge, each leaf a new dictionary. You planted a time capsule filled with mix tapes of rap songs your mom wouldn’t want you listening to. You reach an age where you come to understand ghosts and the past and the way other people see you wearing your skin. You learn to celebrate your wrestle with the world. You stare at an elm wood tree as if it were a mirror, confirming your strength and your roots. That — is Franny Choi.
Somewhere in your childhood memory there may have been a ceiling sprinkled with glow-in-the-dark stars. Some of the constellations were based on real constellations, some you made up. There was a shirt that cut too low and showed off your belly; you were proud of that belly. You made fart noises with your armpits. You talked to the ceiling when no one else would listen. You grew up. You became the giant chasing ants with magnifying glasses and it took you years to catch your breath. That — is Buddy Wakefield.
At some age you acknowledged that you are a camouflaged cipher in search of your secret decoder ring. You discovered that your body, not limited by bones, can move. There is a mirror that you talked to, practicing the range of your own voice, made music with sounds you carved from your whole mouth. Somewhere in your childhood you find conflict in your family tree; can anybody really be half anything? You imagine your skin is the dance floor. You dance. Somewhere in your childhood there is a boombox reciting a history lesson. That — is Anthony McPherson.
Somewhere there is a picture or a memory of you and all your siblings. There is a closet full of hand-me-downs that never fit you right. There is a phone, on the wall, you used to answer knowing the caller would mistake you for your mother. Somewhere in the house there is a cabinet full of chipped china. There is a pile of magazines in the corner of your former bedroom that confirms you liked girls/boys/poetry. There are notebooks with margins full of three languages; theirs, yours, honest. That — is Alex Dang.
Maybe your childhood resembles a typewriter with the way you smudged ink across the floor boards and the ceiling fans and the chandeliers. There’s a fitted sheet in the corner still pinned to the wall where you built a blanket church. There are scuffs on the floor where you learned to tap dance your way through every heartache. There’s a telescope in your childhood made out of paper towel tubes, held together with stickers and band-aids, it’s propped against your window where you used to make astronauts of your stuffed animals. That — is Derrick Brown.
In the corner of your childhood room there’s maybe a lamp, or an armchair, or maybe an empty corner, where you first cut your own hair. Short. There’s a collage of all the wo/men you ever thought you loved. There are notches in the doorway to your teenage bedroom where you marked each broken heart. Hanging from the ceiling there is a mobile of weather patterns that you made with your own hands. On the far wall, near the window, there is a pencil drawing of home, or everything you thought home meant when you were twelve. That — is Andrea Gibson.
Or maybe your childhood was biblical. Maybe your childhood is all ocean crest and high tide. Maybe you were born a queen. Maybe there is a reason your name sounds like a goddess. In the corner of your childhood there might be skeletons that archaeologists would drool over. Perhaps you were born on the third day, which is to say, perhaps God wrote the first black poem when he made you. The corner of your childhood home could be an entire continent, or at least a national landmark. That — is Crystal Valentine.
Poetry exists in these spoken word grand marshals and in so many others like them. It exists in the embarrassment of being laughed at, of owning who we are in all the small, obscure moments that have made you, you. Poetry confronts the awkward, judgmental monsters that have made homes under our proverbial beds. And yes, of course, the floors have always been made of lava, we just learned to walk on fire.
It was Carl Sandburg who reasoned in his ‘Tentative (First Model): Definitions of Poetry’ that, “Poetry is an art practised with the terribly plastic material of human language.”
It is unlikely that Poetry will ever knock before entering. More like Poetry sits by the front door, beneath the porch light, and waits for you to wake up. Poetry seeps in. You never see it coming. You feel it. Poetry waits for you to be open to the possibilities of understanding. Not everything has to be so rigid. Not everything needs format. You will feel it in your chest, in the wells of your eyes, in the breadth of your lungs.
When someone says, “They have a way with words,” that is their recognizing and understanding that at once Poetry is an attempt to express an emotional or physical experience using artful manipulation of ideas that exist outside of our preconceived constraints of language.
If Poetry happens to knock, it will knock with celebration or with mourning, when you are ready or when you least expect it, and you — with ‘open’ sign eyes and childlike curiosity — should get to the door as fast as humanly possible.
Picture taken of Anis Mojgani’s The Pocketknife Bible.
*It should be noted that the format of The Shadow & The Shape, though not nearly as compelling, was inspired by Dante Douglas & Alex Dang’s piece, The Shotgun Cabinet