Poetry has always wielded a certain power over me. Even as a first-grader, I understood there was something magical about words and how they are used to convey ideas. That year I won first place in a citywide competition for a poem I wrote. By the time I was ten, my father had my brother and me memorizing poems from his favorite poets. In fact, I don’t have to try very hard to remember my brother standing in his bathrobe, kneeling down on one knee, performing James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation.”
Throughout the years the idea of poetry has evolved to me–the way in which I perceive it and the way I choose to put it out into the world. It was something I did naturally, simply because words mattered to me. How I recorded something in my notebook had to reflect not just the idea, but the language itself, how syllables were accented, how consonants and vowels interacted, how words created the right mental picture of a memory. If done well, a poem can be far more powerful than a photograph, because you are capturing not just the image, but the emotional context and resonance of that thing.
While I have primarily viewed myself as a fiction writer in the past, a person wouldn’t know that from looking at my bookshelf. I read a great deal of poetry, and when I write prose, I often tap into the poetic part of my mind. Lately, I have been oscillating back and forth between flash fiction and prose poetry, the line so thin I have trouble making the distinction myself. That’s one of the things I love about poetry, though. It can be so many different things to so many different people. It can exist in a multitude of forms or be as abstract as a Jackson Pollock painting, with words scattered about sans structure. It can be found within the melody of a song or the dialogue of play. It is shapeless yet full of shape; in essence, it is but it isn’t.
Poetry is all of these things to me. It moves about in the world like the music of a baby’s laugh or the sounds of cars cruising the interstate. First, there are the words and then there is the music of the words, the way they sooth or color or beat or tease ideas into us. It’s all poetry, the evolution of what humans can achieve beyond basic communication. It is the thing that holds our hearts or guides our imaginations to enlightenment.
I am grateful that I have been able to watch others create this kind of magic, and while I have breath in my body, I plan on creating a little more magic of my own.
Ran Walker is the author of sixteen books. He has written novels, novellas, short stories, flash fiction, microfiction, and poetry. His short stories, flash fiction, and poetry have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. Prior to becoming a writer and educator, he worked in magazine publishing and practiced law in Mississippi.
Ran is a graduate of Morehouse College (BA in English), Pace University (MS in Publishing), and George Washington University Law School (JD) and is the winner of the adult fiction category for the Virginia Indie Author Project for 2018. He is also the recipient of both a 2005 Mississippi Arts Commission/NEA artist grant and a 2006 artist mini-grant. He served as an Artist-in-Residence with the Mississippi Arts Commission in 2006. Additionally, he is a past participant in the Hurston-Wright Writers Week Workshop and is the recipient of a fellowship from the Callaloo Writers Workshop.