Life cannot be captured in words.
Climbing an oak. Being punched in the stomach. A field reddening under the last rays of sunlight. Seeing your first love for the last time. Stars. Alcohol. Clouds. A glare from a passing mirror. Stubbing your toe. Stubbing your heart. Even the most prosaic experiences have a heft to them that transcends language.
The world isn’t built of words. Neither is the mind. Words only go so far when trying to capture a sight, a sigh, a feeling. And when things get strange—when the floor falls away beneath our feet, when reality is heightened, becoming surreal—the paltriness of language stands exposed.
Everest towers over the dictionary.
There’s a deep tension at the heart of poetry. Words aren’t made to do what the poet wants them to do. Language is of the sunlight, it exists to call attention to the mundane: a promotion, a pratfall, a Pomeranian. But poetry is of the night. It exists to reveal the extraordinary that lies within and beyond the ordinary.
One of the poet’s main tasks is to translate the nonverbal into the verbal. This is an impossible task. To be a poet is to be Sisyphus, forever struggling to reach the crest of the hill. We live for the times when the peak seems nearly upon us. We live for revelations, we live for truth. We come to poetry when we realize some truths cannot be spoken. Many of us arrive bloody, shredded by what we must but cannot say.
Language fails us all in the end. We can only get so close to our goal. In order to come close, close, closer to saying what it’s like to be alive—to be human—we must stretch the boundaries of language. In doing so, we stretch our minds, we stretch our consciousness.
Poetry is an act of boundary stretching. Words become more than themselves. We become more than ourselves.
Poetry is a refuge for the reflective, for those of us who naturally intuit the world in a grain of sand. Here we find the tools to grasp the bare bones of language and bend them into fantastic shapes. Metaphor, ambiguity, image. Symbolism, structure, sound. Rhythm. In skilled hands, these are magical tools.
The poet is a metaphysical collector and explorer, gathering moments and presenting them in such a way that, suddenly, a portal opens up in a puddle and the reader experiences—more.
Ordinarily, a stone in the path is a thing to be ignored or thrown or kicked. In poetry, that same stone, in all its dirt and ugliness, begins to shimmer. The poet looks at the stone and senses more. The stone is a gap, a hint, a symbol—a fragment of ancientness. The stone is evidence of vast tracts of geological time, leading back, back, back to the formation of the earth and the solar system, back to the old nameless stars that exploded, scattering the contents from which we would rise; back even before the birth of ancient stars, back to the beginning of all things.
Out of all that, a stone.
The more we consider the stone, the more its ordinariness is exposed as an illusion. Mundaneness is actually the mask that mystery wears. That there should be a stone instead of nothing at all is a great mystery, a mystery that philosophers have pondered for millennia. The poet discovers this ancient mystery anew for themselves, awakening revelations, awakening a deep sense of connection with the greatest of mysteries. A web begins to unfold, linking seemingly disparate things and revealing patterns. This web becomes a poem.
Where our language is limited, there our consciousness is limited also. When we insist on thinking of a stone as unworthy of our investigation, we will be tricked by the illusion of ordinariness. Most of the universe will be lost to us. In the dimension of poetry—where we stretch the boundaries of natural language—the most truthful and comprehensive route is the slanted one. There’s no other way to tell it but slant. To attempt to tell all the truth—the kind of truth that slumbers at noon and wakes at midnight—requires slantness. Slantness is the language of night. Slantness is a gap in the facade of mundanity, a way for reality in all of its mystery to seep through the boundaries of language.
The power of poetry resides in synapses, in electric gaps, in the connections between poets and worlds and words and minds, between everything that ever was and ever will be. In these connections, creativity and communication mingle and fuse. The receptive reader takes in the floatsam and jetsam presented by the poet, notices patterns and resonances, and experiences insights for themselves. These insights may be akin to the original insights of the poet, or they may be different—communication may become inspiration.
Poetic truth lies in this experience of insight.
A poem is a fractal of the human mind as it considers the universe. As long as we exist, poetry will continue.
Amee Nassrene Broumand is an Iranian-American poet from the Pacific Northwest. Nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize, her work has appeared in Barren Magazine, Empty Mirror, The Ginger Collect, Menacing Hedge, Rabid Oak, Rust + Moth, Sundog Lit, & elsewhere. She served as the March 2018 Guest Editor of Burning House Press.