I love poetry. I rarely read it and I absolutely can’t write it, but I love so much about it. It relies on an efficiency of language than can be breathtaking. (That is, good poetry. Bad poetry just makes me want to cry for the poor abused words.) It’s an art to using words exactly right, just so; harnessing the power of writing, of phrases and sentences and paragraphs.
The books I enjoy the most are those with compelling stories and those with indvidual phrases and sentences that speak to me. With the latter, the story may be good or not, but it’s the way the words are arranged together that pulls me in, a kind of poetry. I’ll linger on a phrase, struck hard by it. I pull the words out of the context of the story and shape them into something of my own.
In college, I was endlessly in literary debates. Oh, the debates. We were so earnest and passionate and serious, as though the world would turn on what we discovered. And I suppose our worlds did turn, are still turning on those foundations.
We argued whether literature — all art, really — meant what the author intended or if we each bring our own experience to what we read, so that the writing then is different for each of us, a living thing, reborn anew with each reader.
I, being young and foolish, argued the first view. I was selfishly thinking of myself. If I write something, it means what I meant it to mean. Someone might read it and think it means something else, but that someone would be wrong. But I was wrong.
What we write doesn’t belong to us. We capture the words and thoughts in our heads and shape them, give life to them and set them free to be captured and shaped by those who read them. And thank God for that, for all the words set free for us to claim, to call our own, to read and think, yes, this is exactly how I feel. I needed words for this feeling and you’ve given them to me. Thank you.
I was reading this book a friend gave to me. She said, you’ll really like it until the end. Then, like with most books, everything wraps up too neatly, and you’ll think, why can’t these books end a hundred pages sooner, with loose ends and messiness like life really is? And she was right.
But what I loved the most about the book wasn’t the story, but the crafting of the words — sentences that jumped at me, left the context of the story and said, here, I am how you feel.
It didn’t surprise me then to learn that the author had also written poetry. You can’t read poems the way you read books. I gobble books up as quickly as I can, down them like shots of tequila. But you have to linger over poems. To get the feelings between the words and the lines. You have to think about those spaces and your life and what you feel right now as the words move through you. And the poem takes the shape of you and you set it free.
And I can see how love, once started
can become a thing apart from us,
a being all its own, unstoppable,
just watching as we waste our human gestures
in the air, and who can say if it’s
the monster or the hero of our lives?
–Wiglaf, Marisa de los Santos