Poetry, like music, can provide a kind of atmosphere to echo or assure a reader, share in their mood, or provide one. It can also, like novels, serve as a kind of escape, allegory, or humor as we face or need respite from life’s difficulties. But what I find I come back to poetry for are insights into the deeper questions—life, nature, connection, existence, the cosmos. It is not that poetry answers the great questions, but that it asks with us and participates somehow in our being.
I think of the deep reflective poetry of John Donne (“Death be not proud…”), poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins in moments of depression but also doubt about belief and then a reconnection with his God (ie “Carrion Comfort”) or Frost’s poems which are on one level simple observations of natural spaces he passes along in walks but on another level have to do with how he decides to live and direct his life, or how he keeps on keeping on.
When I think of contemporary poetry, I think these are the things which draw me to authors like Anne Carson, whose poetry contains characters, philosophy, history and the confusion of everyday being that both interrogates my own existence and allows me distance to watch someone else doing the hard work of wandering along, struggling with love and rejection, meaning and time. Or I think of Shrikanth Reddy’s Facts for Visitors and now-native Georgia poet Andrew Zawacki and the deep beauty in their poetry.
Lastly, I am a poet who has lived across multiple languages and countries, initially grounded in Iowa but now living in France, so the poetry by contemporary authors which is focused on interrogating family, migration/immigration and ancestral connections in wholly new ways is the writing I come to most: Myung Mi Kim’s Under Flag to Commons, Craig Santos Perez’s first 4 books from his unincorporated territory series telling of his roots in Guam and old family vs attachments to the USA via Hawaii and new family, Bhanu Kapil’s Incubation: A Story of Monsters with its cyborg version of herself—an Indian-Brit residing in the USA trying to figure out how to belong, American author now living in New Zealand Lisa Samuels Anti M which is a new version of an autobiography or the slightly older texts which paved the way to these: L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet Lyn Hejinian (My Life but also her recent, exciting text for our times Tribunal) or Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s mixed language text Dictée (first and only book, published on the day she passed away).
Poetry connects me simultaneously to myself, and to the world and universe I am part of. It is a deep form of art which, in this current time of pandemic, is one of the strongest examples of hope, or methods of hoping. This is why I think poetry is fundamental to and for society.
Jennifer K. Dick 14th March 2022