Poetry: The Ultimate Karmic Adventure

Well, maybe I exaggerate just a tiny bit, but not much. Full disclosure for those of you that may not know – I revel in my English degree, and still get giddy over sonnets. Anyone’s sonnets really, from Shakespeare to Browning, and all the way back to Donne. The sparse snippets of thought from Emily Dickinson can shine a glaring light on the human condition far brighter than any self important TV host or politician (stay tuned, Dante has a secret ring of hell just for these two categories of oxygen suckers, and I’ll be dealing with them soon).

Ah, poetry. A dear friend of mine reminded me, on April Fool’s Day, no less, that April is National Poetry month. No doubt some bean counter in a windowless office somewhere was told to find a month to celebrate the charms of the written word, and thought starting on April Fools Day was fitting. Ah, Karma. What a tangled web you weave.

Wait! Don’t go! Yeah, you in the Metallica shirt – hold it right there. I promise, I’m not going to start quoting Kerouac, and you aren’t going to be trapped in a flashback of 1960’s North Beach San Francisco. I will, however, tell you that poetry has worked its way into far more of your life than you’re probably willing to credit. Don’t believe me? Read the lyrics to your favorite song, without the music. Oh, Neko Case is a brilliant songwriter in her own right? Then try it with absolutely anything Eminiem has done. Go on – I double dog dare you. Then try the same with Metallica’s Enter Sandman. I’ve seen your Facebook status, and your Twitter feed. At least once a week, you’re tossing a line from a long forgotten song out, drawing us not only to the state of your thoughts, but to someplace deeper. Beguiling us to revisit hidden memories we thought were gone forever. The last party of high school that had slipped away through the cracks of the grocery list and the big presentation; or the night our life changed forever, and we swore we’d never think on it again.

That’s the power of poetry. At its best, it can evoke mood, memory, or an entire state of being in 17 syllables. At its worst, it will take you back to 12 years old, struggling fruitlessly with a first crush. And that’s just on reading it. But to write it: the figurative equivalent of running through the halls of your office or school, wearing nothing but striped socks and a polka-dotted necktie, is where the real fun begins. And where Karma stretches out her hand, and invites you to dance.

The same friend and I were lamenting the lack of quality angsty poems today. I’m talking real angst – the kind of pain that seeps into your head, and raises your worst fears when you’re not looking. Reading a poem about real pain is like watching the aftermath of a fatal accident on the side of the road: it will change you forever, but you can’t look away. Most of what passes for that today is self-important whining about what a terrible place the world is, and we’re all selfish for even thinking about procreating. The karmic warning to those that stoop so low to try to seem artistic, sophisticated, and terribly complex: you are the Emperor, and we ALL know you have no clothes. You have been discovered, and you will pay. You will be called out for the pompous fool that you are.

For those that write from a real place, whether it’s a place of absolute despair, or a nostalgic confection reminiscing about the first trip to the county fair, the gifts are immeasurable. It’s knowing, that even if another living soul, besides you, never sees what you have written, you have given life to a part of you that is rarely, if ever seen. It’s real, and you can see it, touch it, and smell the page it was written on. And, if the day comes that you must set it free, you can crumple it up, shred it, burn it, or eat it. Even better, you can share it. Shout it to the four winds, whisper it to a sleeping loved one. Leave it anonymously on a truck stop bathroom sink. Blog it. Trust me on this one.

Happy National Poetry Month everyone. Read one. Read two. Better yet? Write one. You’ll be glad you did.


  • I wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!
    • Lizzy Bennett

For Katie…