Poetry and Connecting/Illuminating the Unseen

I love poetry for numerous reasons:  how it makes me feel, the way it conjures rich vistas in the mind as though with a paintbrush, the way it provides a container for paradoxical and contradictory ideas, the way it links those ideas together in a way that echoes a puzzle piece falling into place (as though nothing really made sense until those pieces clicked into place), and the way all of these things combine to reflect our lives back to us in an artful, thought-provoking, formative, and radical way. To me, poetry is nothing short of revolutionary for its ability to reveal and illuminate truths, and reconnect us to our innate humanity. Like food, like air, like shelter, I cannot live without it.

There are thousands of poems that evoke those emotions in me, but I couldn’t possibly begin to recount the collective totality of my readings in this blog post. I can, however, share a poem that represents many, if not all, of the things I love about poetry.

Several years ago I was standing next to a woman at a writer’s conference, and started talking to her only to realize part way through our conversation that she was Rae Armantrout. I was stunned at not only our chance meeting, but our chance conversation. Rae Armantrout is one of my favorite poets. And her poem called “Advent” is one of my favorite poems. I promptly gushed about what her poem means to me, and she said “You wouldn’t believe how many people have told me that. It’s so interesting. What is it about that poem?”

I’ve been thinking about her comment ever since. And I realized just as I was sitting down to write this post, that it evokes so many of those things I mentioned in my first paragraph. It contains contradictions, paradoxes, truths, illuminations, fresh insights, rich images, and yes, radical revelations and recastings of the stories we tell. With it’s religious title of “Advent” and its finely-tuned juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated word/ideas, this poem can seem dense and difficult to glean all the implications of its language, despite it’s very short, terse phrasing.

But packed within this tightly controlled and spare language is nothing short of a bomb that exposes and recasts the conceit of human creation. It speaks directly to the stories we tell ourselves, who’s telling those stories, and what the deep underlying truth of those stories really are. The way I read it, it’s nothing short of a manifesto stating where we’ve been and where we’re going as women reinvent the world in which we live. And that is nothing short of revolutionary.





Coal on a Snowy Day

It’s the first snowy day in Massachusetts. We’re about to light a fire in our old coal stove and I was reminded of the poem “Coal” (in the book of the same name) by Audre Lorde. A poem that is decades old, this poem struck me as being as relevant as ever in today’s culture wars over whose voice gets to be heard and who are the gatekeepers of such listening. It also took on new meaning as we stare down the threat of repealing the Net Neutrality laws that allow us the same access to the same information, rather than creating a channel of corporate-controlled information to a chosen few who can afford it. Yes, all of these things were triggered by rereading Lorde’s poem. And I think she’d be pleased to know that, because she was the ultimate fully integrated human being, aware of the systems in which she lived and carving her own blazing path through that darkness in a time when voices like hers were so marginalized: woman, African American, lesbian, feminist. This poem today reads as a bit of a manifesto of these times to me, as I imagine it must’ve felt to her when she wrote it.


is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a word, coloured
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the passing crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book,—buy and sign and tear apart—
and come whatever wills all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me.

Love is a word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth’s inside
now take my word for jewel in the open light.


Here’s to Audre Lorde, a woman deeply of, and ahead of, her time. And here’s to hoping that we take every person’s word as jewels “in the open light.”