“I tested very positively in another sense this morning. I tested positively toward negative, right? No, I tested perfectly this morning — meaning I tested negative but that’s a way of saying it positively toward the negative.”
– President Trump, 21 May 2020
Although poems are often the first thing that come to mind in times of grief, or great happiness, or which bubble up from memories of childhood, most people I know do not read poetry. “I don’t understand it”, is the answer I typically get when I try to understand the aversion to poetry.
And yet, we tolerate nonsense constantly. World leaders speak gibberish on the regular, and popular media shout contradictory, self-referencing information at us. The internet is full of misquotations, poor grammar, and outright falsehoods, all presented and consumed as profoundly worth sharing.
Perhaps it’s the intricacy that people object to — the way poetry both resists narrative and perplexes it. Yet, poetry is the only honest form; truth, like poetry, is both simple and complex. It is a simple yes or no that we muddle trying to make it look like the answer we want.
Poetry is the most versatile and the most flexible written form humans have created. No better mode exists for revealing the confusions and struggles of both real-life and the life of the mind. In the cacophony of nonsense that engulfs us from both outside and within, poetry makes the greatest sense.
I find myself turning to poetry more now than at any time in the past. I hunger after words that mean deeply, and in poetry, words carry weight in every way. Everything matters in poetry: word choice, placement, rhythm, content. The poet tunes all those levers, commands all those forces to do as much work as possible in little space. In that way, poetry leaves room for contemplation and discernment — exactly what we need to sort through nonsense.
Everybody needs poetry: needs to experience words carefully chosen and precisely arranged; needs the experience of being invited in to consider words as thoughtfully as they were conceived.