I’ve often wondered to what extent poetry has the power to change people. For many, poetry provides a sense of comfort, consistency, and an opportunity to heal in ways that other genres of literature cannot provide. But to change someone’s attitude on an issue, to set the groundwork for a new lifestyle, to lay out the principles on how to live a more fulfilling life, is still something I’m uncertain is within poetry’s reach, at least not yet. My skepticism here stems from the fact that I believe poetry (in all its styles, form, and definitions), has exactly this potential, if we are willing to allow it to do so, and if as a society we provide literature a space in which it can flourish.
There seems to be shift in the way we look our changing world, specifically with regards to technology and the amount of time we use it. At this past year’s New Year’s Eve party, a group of friends and I made vision boards, boards with magazine cutouts of images and words that state our goals/resolutions for the upcoming year. All of them had some variation of spending less time with technology, being more present (with family, friends, etc.), and (I smiled with they presented this part of their boards) to read more books. None of them stated they wanted to read poetry collections (to my slight disappointment), but nevertheless, I found my friend’s determination to read more books inspiring, and I knew that somewhere someone had decided, perhaps long before the clock struck midnight, that they were going to read more poetry.
My own journey with the genre began with some reluctance, partly because I knew that I would become obsessive with it (as I become obsessive with whatever piques my interest). Near the end of my first semester of my MFA program, I seriously considered taking a different route, since the course load I was taking at the time had become increasingly overwhelming. However, I turned to poetry to calm my encroaching anxiety, and I’ve turned to it since as a way to remind myself that I am a part of this world, that I exist within all the good and bad that it presents every day.
Poetry can change the ways in which we view aspects of history and it can help us better address the present and beyond. Reading the work of Joy Harjo can teach us the importance of native landscape and cultures, and how we must come to terms with this country’s troubled past. Reading the work of W.S. Merwin can illuminate the horrors of war and can bring us closer to connecting more deeply with the earth. Reading the work of Jay Wright can allow us to examine history within the context of identity, and how the past is always influencing our present. And right now there is someone arranging and revising words we will read, study, and reflect upon in a way that will change us, provide us to the opportunity to heal, and make us better versions of ourselves. Like all poets, I hope my work will do the same, but more importantly I hope that we are able to view poetry, and all of literature for that matter, as a reliable resource we don’t just turn to every now and then, but that we weave into every aspect of our lives.
Esteban Rodríguez is the author of the collections Dusk & Dust, Crash Course, In Bloom, (Dis)placement, and The Valley. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contributor for [PANK] and Heavy Feather Review. He lives in Austin, Texas.