“I suppose what most people associate with poetry is soul-searching and fiercely held emotions. We expect the poet to be a monger of intensity, to pain for us, to reach into the campfire so that we can linger in the woods and watch without burning ourselves or grubbying up our clothes. Then, even if we don’t feel the fire, we can see the poet’s face illuminated by light, hear her flushed chatter, the blazing wood crackle, and imagine well enough what the fire feels like from our safe remove. Though we can’t live at red alert from day to day, we expect the poet to, on our behalf, and to share that intensity with us when we’re in the right mood. And if we become frightened or bored, we can simply put the poem back on the shelf. Really, we are asking the poet to live an extravagantly emotional life for us, so we can add her experiences to our own.
Because poets feel what we’re afraid to feel, venture where we’re reluctant to go, we learn from their journeys without taking the same dramatic risks. We cherish the insights that poets discover: we’d love to relish the moment and feel rampant amazement as the seasons unfold. We yearn to explore the subtleties, paradoxes, and edges of emotion. We long to see the human condition reveal itself with spellbinding clarity. Think of all the lessons to be learned from deep rapture, danger, tumult, romance, intuition. But it’s far too exhausting to live like this on a daily basis, so we ask artists to feel and explore on our behalf. Daring to take intellectual and emotional chances, poets live on their senses. In promoting a fight of his, a boxer once said: “I’m in the hurt business.” In a different way, poets are too.
And yet, through their eyes—perhaps because they risk so much—we discover breathtaking views of the human pageant. Borrowing the lens of a poet’s sensibility, we see the world in a richer way—more familiar than we thought, and stranger than we knew, a world laced with wonder. Sometimes we need to be taught how and where to seek wonder, but it’s always there, waiting, full of mystery and magic. Much of my own duty as a poet is the open those doors of vision, shine light into those dark corners of existence, and search for fountains of innocence.
The poet Heinrich Heine once said: “Life is the best teacher, but the tuition is high.” So true. That’s why it’s important to find time for poetry. Poetry is an education in life. It’s also an act of deep play.”
–Diane Ackerman, Deep Play