THE POWER OF POETRY

POWER OF POETRY #119: CHRISTOPHER W. CLARK

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what happens when narrative stops. Is this an act of creation or violence? Is it the location of a cessation or a generation? I spent hours looking through the writing of Ocean Vuong and Édouard Louis trying to find a quote I read that summed up the sense of this idea but when I tried, I could no longer find it. The more I tried, the more I realised that it was the sense of the idea rather than the words that remained with me. I took what I’d originally read, or the meaning I’d derived from it in that particular moment, building upon it to create a larger idea. For me, it was the way that when writing to—or about—a thing creates space through silence and interruption, a site then occupied by what lies around and outside of that thing.

When writing stops, it becomes a space for reflection. The gaps and spaces in the words are not gaps we fall though, but instead potential rises up, taking us by surprise, to show us the outlines of a path to a newer way of thinking.

It’s this point of departure that forms the site and space of poetry. Amongst the flickers, switches and swaps, the ticks and repetitions, the tension of what isn’t said at all when something else is, these become the nexus of the thing that writing talks to. When we read, whether it’s a poem, prose, memoir, or a play, we are constantly looking beyond what simply appears on the page. What makes poetry remarkable is how it flirts with those boundaries in such an upfront way.

Ideas are playfully gestured toward, dancing around the ephemera, creating moments that spark something that lingers in us long afterward. This is what makes great poetry (or poetry great). There’s a reason language is called “poetic”; it gestures towards a sentence, a turn of phrase, a way of thinking that moves into that realm of in-betweenness, of calling on the outside to reveal itself.

What then becomes the purpose of writing poetry? For me, it’s about allowing one’s self to be absorbed into the spaces of omission, to explore what has been left out, cast aside. There’s a reason that writers, and especially poets, are often outliers and outsiders. It’s what gives them the ability to explore ideas in new ways as the poet and poem collide, exploring negation, realising the productive potential within that space. The poet takes an idea, transforms it, and then invites the reader to follow on that journey. There’s a reason why poetry is so exact—it works with precision to peel back surfaces, uncovering what lies underneath, hidden amongst those gaps.

When we operate at the moment where everything stops, we have a greater understanding of what has been, but also what can be. It teaches us the relationship between those states, but also allows us to see everything in between, asking us to think beyond binaries of is and isn’t. The expansive nature of the poem, of poetry, is what creates moments that stay with us, placing them into our care so that we carry them with us. The poem is a fireball, full of vibrant possibility that shakes up the page, demanding we give ourselves over, so it leaves us with a part of it long after we’ve finished reading.

Allowing yourself to become absorbed by the poem means you lose a part of yourself too, creating a small fracture. We might think of this as another gap being created, allowing for the new potential of ideas to be explored. This is the joy of poetry—for writer and reader.

Writing poems means you challenge yourself as a person but also as a practitioner. Everyone should write a poem at least once in their life, doing so without concern or inhibition, letting the writing take over and seeing where it takes you. Blanchot talks about how the act of writing is like becoming lost, something akin to “the muse” taking over; it makes sense, then, that writing without barriers is the closest a person comes to being free. The playful joy of poetry, and the exploration of all of its forms, is that it gives you an unparalleled opportunity to do just that.


Christopher W. Clark (@chriswillclark) reads, writes, and teaches things. Their poems have featured in various publications including The Cadaverine and Ink, Sweat, & Tears. They have collaborated with The Royal Philharmonic Society and photographer Mick Frank among others. They are currently working on a chapbook and full-length novel dealing with the intersections of class and queerness.

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