Oh Captain, My Captain! The Lost Art of Poetry

I went for my morning stroll with overcast skies and a new found crispness in the air and I found myself wrapping my scarf tighter.

As I walked along damp clay, I felt such great appreciation and gratitude as I watched the leaves starting their descent from the branches where they once held life.

All of the wonderful colors of fall were emerging: brilliant burnt sienna, lush burgundy reds, vibrant yellows, and deep rich browns.

It didn’t take long before I was lost in thought, mesmerized, and twirling one of the leaves from its stem.

A million thoughts came to mind—but it struck me that nature has its own form of poetry.

After my stroll, I wandered into a nearby café and ordered a steaming hot cup of rich, black coffee in an oversized ceramic mug.

I found a table and started unloading my pack: book upon book, journal upon journal, and noticed an elderly gentleman watching me.

“You a writer?” he asked with a knowing smile. I smiled and nodded as if to say, “Yes.”

“What do you write about?”

“Well, for the most part, I write non-fiction. I write poetry. I write about feelings, relationships, world events, awareness—whatever burns a fire in my belly. I write about living transparently and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. Really, I write about anything that inspires me or moves me.” I had not meant to sound like a walking advertisement or to do a word vomit.

“Poetry, huh? They still publish that crap?”

As I looked at this man, old enough to have a permanent crease in his brow, I couldn’t help but smirk as I noticed his wedding band.

“You should try reciting poetry from E.E. Cummings or Walt Whitman to your wife. I’m sure she would be absolutely surprised and delighted.”

As we talked further, I allowed him to read a few of my poems. Before leaving, he promised he would do just that—he vowed to memorize a poem and recite it to his wife.

When he left, I felt a deep sadness—almost a feeling of grief or mourning as I realized poetry is truly a lost art.

When I returned home, I lovingly went through my books, well-worn from love over time. My favorites were all there, waiting for me like a long lost lover:

  • Charles Bukowski
  • E.E. Cummings
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Robert Frost
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Rumi
  • E.W. White
  • Walt Whitman

My point being that so much of who I am—a lover of words—came from reading poems written and recited by legends.

Once upon a time, there were entire magazines and books lined with nothing but poetry.

I may be a feminist, but I can still appreciate chivalry.

What happened to days gone by—where a romantic night in meant snuggling with lots of pillows and warm throws, drawing close to your lover by the warmth of a crackling fire whilst drinking whiskey, neat, in a snifter?

Imagine, if you will, some Nina Simone playing in the background on vinyl, a white faux bear skin rug, and your lover reciting a poem of love.

“A poet looks at the world the way a man looks at a woman.” ~ Wallace Stevens

That, my friends, is an expression of true romance.

From what I can tell, 1983 may have been the last year students were required to experience mandatory poetry memorization and recitation as a common element of their American education.

Prior to that, poetry was considered a revered art and one who was “well-read” and versed in literature and poetry was considered to be from high society and of good pedigree.

Researching even further led me to find that education and having a great knowledge of literature, poetry, and philosophy were considered far more valuable than any amount of material wealth.

My heart breaks that in an age of X-Box, PlayStation, Smart Phones, Netflix, Cliff notes, and Internet options that our youth of today may never understand and know the pleasure of reading a poem—raw with emotion. Poems that are dark, gritty, and full of angst. Think Spoken Word in a dark café.

Growing up, I was never really allowed to watch TV and as a child, I resented this. As an adult, I am full of gratitude.

Education was of utmost importance to my family. During summer breaks, we were required to copy three words from the dictionary each morning.

We would have to write the word, the definition, and then we would have to write our own sentences utilizing that particular word.

While most children would have hated this, I absolutely adored it. I fell in love with words and stringing them together in elegant sentences (and sometimes—in not so elegant sentences).

I remember learning a new word and I could not wait to use it in a sentence. I daydreamed in my mind how proud everyone would be that I knew how to use such a beautiful, big word.

The word was constipation and I had not looked for the definition in the dictionary. I overheard my step-mom use the word and upon asking her what it meant, she blushed and replied, “It’s when your dried up inside.”

I suppose she thought I knew that the word was used in conjunction with stool. I did not. At our big family Thanksgiving dinner, I waited for just the right moment before I asked, “May I have some more water? My mouth is constipated.”

The entire table burst with laughter. But, I digress…

Even as a small child, one of my favorite first loves was Shel Silverstein.

My question, then, is how do we bring the art of poetry back? How do we entice others to sit and get lost in a magical world brought to life on paper versus just watching it on film?

When making an attempt to have my poetry published, I have received letters back stating, “Poetry is not really a point of interest,” or, “We don’t normally publish much poetry and when we do, we have fairly strict guidelines…”

Poetry should not be given “guidelines.” It is one of the most beautiful forms of expression.

Poetry is meant to be left open for interpretation. It’s meant to be felt and read with an open mind and open heart.

Poetry is meant to have the words reflected upon—taste the words, let their meaning resonate.

Sit with the words for a while and ask yourself, “How does this make me feel? And why?”

The crown of literature is poetry.” ~ W Somerset Maughan

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” ~ Robert Frost

“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” ~ Carl Sandburg

Author: Mary Rogers

Editor: Travis May

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