This is Gift

Robert Frost noted that a poem begins as a “lump in the throat” or a “homesickness” and never as a thought. Poetry is born in the body, and the accompanying sense of displacement that is a part of our experience from cradle to grave. We are ever trying to negotiate both where we are along the way along with the sense that “where we are” is a way station. And this awareness of our constant dislocation is born in our bodies. Each and every experience that we have is imprinted on our bodies. In this instance I sweat my panic and in that I smile my joy; here I shiver my pleasure and there loss wets my cheek. My jaw clenches this memory into place and my cheek flushes an intimacy revealed. My body inscribes that I live both in and beyond each experience. But for some reason, some of us are not content to leave it at that.

A poem may begin as a lump in the throat, but it seems that many of us want to memorialize our experience, or perhaps exorcise it, by putting it to print. I suspect that this need to memorialize is true, as well, for authors who are not poets. In the end, authors have their own reasons for putting pen to page, and as I think through my experience of writing, I realize that it is as varied as the genres I employ in my writing life. When I write a report I inform. When I write an essay I try out an idea. When I write a sermon I bear witness. But when I write a poem, I turn flesh to word. I see something; perhaps a person piquing my curiosity with theirs, or perhaps a sky that is so large as to fill my eye. But that experience of seeing is not yet enough; it demands an accounting, not in the sense that it needs to be fit into a budget of sensibilities, but in the sense that a convincing exploration of the experience is pleading for the light of day. The riches of the experience preclude a simplistic cause and effect narrative. Poetry redeems the day by pointing beyond the author and her words. Good poetry launches us and leaves us in a strange place where we see the world in a new way.

In a way, poetry takes us from body to word to body again. A poem is a boomerang. It takes leave from the flesh and straddles the heavens only to return again to the earth that we stride and the earth that we are. A poem is a storm, flashing across the orb of my eye; raining song on a scorched earth; winding questions into the cracks of armored certainties that shut people out and pain in. Poetry de-calcifies us. It doesn’t scratch an itch so much as it itches a numbed world. Poetry truly begins as a lump in the throat, but that lump is there because a wider world is in the wings and aching to be explored.

My path into poetry has been, in the end, the surreptitious path of poetry into me. Here an author unsettled a satisfied me; there a hymn not only named a yearning but birthed another. Over and over again I find myself indebted to that lump in my throat that announces that I am alive and this is gift.

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16 thoughts on “This is Gift

  1. Your writing is beautiful and what you write is so true. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Marie Taylor says:

    Excellent! Insightful and well said.

  3. dianerivers says:

    “Poetry de-calcifies us. It doesn’t scratch an itch so much as it itches a numbed world.” Yes and yes. So glad you were given this gift, along with the generosity to share it.

  4. shoreacres says:

    I’m a little hesitant about Frost’s statement. To pull apart mind and body seems unnecessary: perhaps even ill-advised. Of course, he may have been defining thought more narrowly than I do. There’s analytical thought, and it’s true that not much poetry seems to arise from that. But there’s also the musing, pondering, reflecting, and questioning that shape and re-shape experience, and in that sense, thought seems to me to be at the very heart of poetry, and poetic writing.

    In any event, that’s a quibble with Frost. I may be a little uncomfortable with his premise, but I like your conclusions. I especially like your image of the poem as boomerang. That’s true to my own experience, and a very original way of putting it. And, yes: the ability of poetry to decalcify is one of its greatest gifts. That’s one reason I read far more poetry than I write. I need to keep at least a trickle of creativity running through these old mental pipes, and the poetic masters really help.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Thanks for your wrestling with Frost. To be frank, I read the quotation in another work and so it might be a bit out of context. My sense is that he does not preclude the role of thought/reason in poetry, but rather proposes that something sensual gets the mind rolling. All the same, this, too, can be contested but I do like his attention to the material as fodder for poetry. There are some very metaphysical poets that write some very inspirational material, but I find they work better after a glass of wine! Two glasses, however, ruins them. Glad to know that you liked the boomerang analogy. As for the de-calcification, keep those pipes clear: they deliver some very fine goods!

      • shoreacres says:

        I just found a Paris Review interview with poet Billy Collins. You can find the whole thing here. For the time being, skip the intro and the first exchange between Collins and the interviewer. Begin with Collins’s second response, which begins, “There’s a lot of waiting around until something happens. …”

        I found myself saying, “Yes!” all the way through, and suspect you will, too. It’s another way of sayiing what you said above. I suspect what he says about “tone” vs “meter and rhyme” is part of what Frost was talking about, too.

      • agjorgenson says:

        Of course, I had to read it all. I was introduced to Collins a bit ago, and simply adore him. Every now and then I run into a poem in the New Yorker, or some such magazine and wonder why bother… but then I pick up Collins and my faith is renewed. Thanks for this. I was quite intrigued by his take on revision. I’ll need to think more about this!

  5. perrymj says:

    For years my mother belonged to a poetry group. I was privileged to join when she no longer was able to drive. I remember one of the women who was reading a poem of Yeats (I forget which one) and she began as they always did, explaining why she had chosen this poem–she said “I could tell he heard my body’s aches.” I am wishing that even one of them was still alive so that I could share your words. Thank you.

  6. jannatwrites says:

    Beautiful way to share the journey of poetry and its bond between body and world. The emotions in poetry are so much more than other forms of writing and what a blessing to recognize things in this world that move us to write about them.

    • agjorgenson says:

      Hi, thanks for taking time for this and for your kind words. I agree that poetry has possibilities lost to other genres. The down side is that sometimes makes it seem difficult.

  7. One of my favorites here, Allen, and this line such lovely articulation:
    “a convincing exploration of the experience is pleading for the light of day.”

    I read poetry here today.

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