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Commentary: Poetry keeps us connected to life, love, ourselves

May 03, 2014|By Lee Mallory

Editor's note: This article first appeared April 28 in the Las Vegas Sun under the headline, "Discover the power of poetry," and is being reprinted here at the request of the author and with the permission of the newspaper.

Poetry is a wonder! April was National Poetry Month, which makes this a good time to check it out. A poet knows the wonder of a listener who says, "Your poem about that first kiss? I felt that way too. You really got it there!"

There's also wonder in the "capture" of a cherished moment, locked up for eternity. Conversely, it's also a wonder anyone cares at all, when poetry's often taught so badly.

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Anyway, after 40 years devoted to poetry and also teaching it, I think I'm pretty normal. With two kids (one deceased), I vote and drink beer and have run 11 marathons, just to dispel the notion that poets are effete intellectuals who only come out after dark. Here's why reading and writing poetry can become a mainstay for our lives.

First, reading poetry and newspapers, short stories or novels makes us smarter and gives us the satisfaction of being well read. Robert Frost offers us wise counsel on roads not taken, while the late but contemporary Charles Bukowski teaches us patience and style in the face of life's stresses.

Otherwise, if you love nature, Robinson Jeffers and Gary Snyder will show you California's rugged coastlines and Nevada's ragged and majestic peaks. Sadly, T. S. Eliot will also counsel that "April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land."

Moreover, if morning's news of lost airliners, range wars and Ukraine makes you want to throw a shoe, enjoy the tranquility, silence and purity of a Japanese haiku. In short, show me a reader of poetry, and you may find a person wise and uncommonly good. That is, seek human riches in the word, and you will be renewed.

Poetry's second reward is keeping us connected to life. In our cyber world where kids have their noses in cellphones and where texts rank with gold, a dose of poetry reconnects us to life's universal touchstones — love, wholeness and our yearnings to get back to nature, forces that bind us to humanity. They are also what we need to fight our sense of estrangement when facing "press 1, press 2" — times when we may just want to end the call.

If that happens, hang up and switch to some poetic lines like Norman Russell's, "Oh love / I come to you / along every trail on every mountain / I come to you love."

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