Give poetry — and its exercise in subtlety — a chance

April 23, 2013 

I’m a writer. Of poetry, essays, fiction and advertising copy. I’m especially fond of poetry, because it tells me: stop writing. Write less.

A 2,000-word essay is a piece of cake. Ten paragraphs on real estate, or dentistry: simple.

Poems are not snow tire ads or novels about the human condition. A poem must be a small, honest seed. It comes alive with each reading. Writing good poetry is as easy as conducting a successful cold fusion experiment in a soda bottle.

During April, National Poetry Month, thousands of Americans are participating in poetry events. Tacoma – already a center for paper and poetic arts – blossoms in April. Teen workshops, spoken word open mics and readings pop up like spring flowers all over town.

Maybe you’re astonished to learn people still read – and write – poetry. The average American, like Edgar Allen Poe’s raven, might be quoted on the subject of poetry: “Nevermore!”

C’mon people, give poetry a chance. Join the housewives, blue-collar workers and pop stars who write, and appreciate poetry.

Anyway, I know you’re fond of it, too. You inscribe it in birthday cards and love notes. You recite it at weddings, graduations, funerals. Even when lecturing kids, you tumble into verse: A stitch in time saves nine. A penny saved is a penny earned.

Besides, poetry is hip. There are iPhone poetry apps. Spoken word poetry slams. We’re on YouTube and Twitter. An astronaut wrote a poem in space last year.

The digital age is not killing poetry. With online journals, blogs and Facebook, there’s more poetry than ever.

Poetry is never irrelevant or outdated. Its exercise of subtlety, its journey into the subconscious – its habit of staring without turning away – is needed more than ever.

Consider “Flounder,” by U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey. The story about fishing with an aunt also speaks to Trethewey’s experience growing up biracial in the South:

A flounder, she said, and you can tell

’cause one of its sides is black.

The other is white, she said.

It landed with a thump.

I stood there watching that fish flip-flop,

switch sides with every jump.

Ethnic identity. Spring flowers. First love. Nothing is too small, or too big, for poetry’s inquisitive, adoring eye.

Still, the world doesn’t always embrace mystery. We poets feel a bit like Trethewey, flip-flopping in two worlds. How can our introspection compete with Facebook, Angry Birds and Honey Boo Boo?

Poetry Month ends in a week, but there are readings and workshops all year long. Tonight is one of the April’s highlights, the ceremony honoring Lucas Smiraldo as the 2013-2015 Poet Laureate.

Yes, Tacoma has something Seattle doesn’t have: our very own city poet laureate. From one of the state’s earliest poetry clubs (the Japantown Green Leaf society, started in 1915) to our contemporary, vibrant literary community – we are no slackers when it comes to poetry.

Many urban spaces are sonnets of separation. Places where rich and poor, the cultures and walks of life, are divided. Tacoma is different. In this ex-pulp mill town, we mingle and make meaning in very collaborative ways.

Dear poets and citizens of Tacoma – keep taking in what others scorn. The knots, the broken branches. Discarded comic books, financial memos, opera scores. Mix them together. Soldiers, immigrants, artists. Victorian mansions. Tideflats.

Boil up this mash. Press it, dry it, ink it. That’s how you get pulp and progress, paper and poems, printers and philosophers.

Poetry is perfect for a sometimes overlooked city of destiny. Poetry reminds us, there are no small things, or small people. Not one single thing is extraneous, or forgotten.

It takes a former mill town to see, in every fallen tree, in every splinter, there exists the possibility of a poem.

poetry reading

The public is welcome to the free Tacoma Poet Laureate Ceremony and Reading at 6:30 tonight at the Main Tacoma Public Library, 1102 Tacoma Ave. S.

Maria Gudaitis, a writer and designer, was a 2012 reader columnist. This article is adapted from her closing remarks at the Poetry Month Kick-Off party. More poetry can be found at her blog, mariagudaitis.com.

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