A couple years ago, I took a summer yoga class that gave homework. One of our assignments was to create a piece of art. I don’t remember if the parameters were more specific than that or if we were simply getting in touch with our creative selves, but I knew intuitively what I wanted to make.
I’d recently hiked to see a local waterfall and had started thinking about the paradox of rising up by falling down, just as mist rises from the base of the falls. I plopped a snapshot into a new Instagram post and used my thumbs to shape and reshape lines of text, like a potter molding clay on a wheel. Then, with some trepidation (was it good enough for others to read it??), I hit share.
Before that, poetry writing had been a rarity for me. I’d write a poem every other year when a certain elusive mood coincided with the alignment of the planets, and I’d show it to no one. But somehow the pairing of photo and poem hooked me. I became addicted to the sport of stalking poems and trying to capture them with both camera and words, and my output increased to every other week and sometimes even every other day. They began to pile up like gleaming trophies in the cute three-column grid of Instagram.
A major part of that newfound devotion was that my poems now had a place in the world—a way to exist and be seen beyond the notebooks and computer files I’d stashed them in. Social media let poetry sit side by side with vacation photos and other dailiness, like infusing the ordinary with tiny nuggets of grandness. When other people’s poems rolled onto my feed, they slowed the pace of my scrolling and my breathing, creating a moment to pause and reflect and bask in the meaning of life. Now I was able to pay it forward in gratitude for poems that had resonated with me, like this all-time favorite from William Carlos Williams:
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.
I feel that way too: that there is something essential found in poems, some essence we are otherwise lacking that needs a place in our daily lives.
Part of that essence, for me, is wrestling with ideas. Anyone who’s had a solid conversation with me knows that small talk is my nemesis while profound truths are my passion. I turn into a super-animated version of myself and will keep you pinned down for hours if you’re game for it. The challenge of then distilling truth into tiny bites of wisdom, humor, etc is fun for me.
But I began to notice that the poems soon became lost amid all my other posts. There wasn’t a good way to go back and find them. Also, only those who had access to my private IG account were able to see them at all. Belatedly, I wished I had made them their own public IG home, but starting over didn’t make sense. I wanted the date stamp preserved with each piece, and if I reposted them, I’d lose that.
Alternatively, I considered posting them here on All About the Words, but I quickly realized that wouldn’t work either, since I couldn’t have two separate sets of date-stamped posts on the same site. They’d end up as intermingled as my IG posts.
So I made something new. I rescued every poem and placed them in a collective sanctuary: Awake & Amused: Poetry, Paradox & Perspective. I took care to match every date and keep the original formatting of every line, and I chose a layout that preserved the three-column look I loved. I continue to publish on Instagram, preserving the beauty and function of that original platform, but now I have a separate archive as well.
Mostly it’s for me, the way a mother wants to be sure her kids aren’t lost out in the world. I like knowing they’re all together, safe and sound.
But it’s also for those kindred souls who’ve connected to the words, commenting,
“I love this one”
“Absolutely so gorgeous and perfect!”
“Goodness. Love this.”
“This is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.”
After all, isn’t that the reason we share anything? We hope we aren’t alone in our feelings; we hope others will understand what we’re saying. Poems need a place in our lives because they slow our pace long enough to see this crucial fact: we are human, we are connected.
Maybe that is the essence of poetry.