I tried to share my favorite poem by my favorite poet with my darling mother yesterday.
I read her the damn thing with as much emotion as I could possibly muster, and when I was done-
She said nothing and kept on driving.
And I had to laugh.
I tried to explain it to her. Here I was, trying to explain made-up words in a language that wasn’t her first, and I had to laugh at her, and I had to laugh harder at myself.
How does a person enjoy poetry? I’m not sure I could enjoy poetry if it wasn’t in my first language. Especially if the poet employs the use of rhyme and iambic pentameter, all that toil gets thrown right out the window the moment it steps foot in a foreign land. Or if it gets gently, lovingly coaxed over another border.
This is the irony of poetry. It is both universal, about topics as essential to Homo sapiens about love, loss and the intangible in-betweens; as well as secluded, comprehensible only to those familiar with the written language.
And it’s a shame, because the most beautiful poets of our time and of times past come from such diverse backgrounds.
There’s something about translated poetry that just doesn’t feel the same to me. I’d like to claim that I love Rilke, certainly, there are lines in his poetry so beautiful I just want to meekly set my computer on fire and quit writing forever, but I can’t enjoy it in its entirety, in its pure form. I cannot. I can’t appreciate its beauty in complete form, it just doesn’t carry the same weight for me in English as it does in German. In my humble opinion. Here’s a line that I love from his Duino Elegies:
Ladders that have long since been standing where there was no ground, leaning
just on each other, trembling
Every time I read this, I sigh a little inside.
I believe that poetry is something that is to be felt; it moves you in ways that aren’t always logical. I remember trying to dissect poetry at an earlier age, pulling it apart and laying its various organs on a table. I would take a pair of forceps, snap on some latex gloves, and examine. And try as I might, the poem might not make perfect sense. And that’s ok.
I had yet to learn that people lie, parents aren’t superheroes, love doesn’t always work out, poems don’t always make sense, and the world I know is just a small blue and green marble spinning inside a much larger picture.
My grandmother can’t read. But does this mean she can’t enjoy poetry? Here enters the spoken word. Also known as slam poetry, spoken word is the marriage between written words and performance art. When I think of my favorite slam poets, I think of those who infuse so much emotion into their words you can’t help but sit, transfixed by the intensity in their eyes, the conviction in their voices.
Sometimes I ask myself if I could ever perform the words I’ve written. I love stories, and I love telling stories. Sometimes, I can keep an audience’s attention; sometimes, not. Pacing is key. But I’m also afraid of failure. I’m afraid of criticism, I’m afraid of rejection, and I think what I might fear most is indifference.
Perhaps this is my goal going forward. What do I have to share? With whom can I share these things? Are there less conventional ways that I can give back to people I care about? And can I take some constructive criticism? These are the things that I’d like to work on. And if someone somewhere can identify with the words that I’m writing, then I’m happy.