On Wednesday morning, I sat in the passenger seat while Amanda drove, and I studied my phone, jumping from texts with friends to Facebook, then running away to Instagram to do a Facebook cleanse, then back again. Our worries filled the car like stuffy heat.
But one thing I kept noticing in my jumping from screen to screen was this: poetry. Art. Everywhere, it was Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde. Roxane Gay and Alexander Chee. Amy Tan. Lucy Knisely with her comics.
I was comforted, inspired, pushed. I thought – and still feel this – that yes, this is the time for poets. The poets will show us the way, will help us understand. In my imagination, poets are magical beings – unicorns, really – who are able to distill moments, both mundane and immense, into a crystalized object for us to hold. A postage stamp, a wire whisk, my hand closed around my son’s foot.
This post-election moment feels so outsized, so vast and scary and huge, so full of fear – that the poets have really been carrying me. I wish for the cuddly sweater that is a Billy Collins poem, something to hide away in. But I also want the battle cry. I need the battle cry.
Did you see the cold open for SNL last night? It was the first time that SNL has ever made me cry. Amanda and I wiped tears away, and she said something so true: that’s why we have art. Indeed, it’s why we need art. To fill us up with the feelings, to give us an outlet, to make us stop and pay attention, to grow, to react. To think. To work.
I read an article on The Atlantic about why poetry went viral in the wake of the election. Indeed, every time I came across a screen shot of a poem on Instagram, I felt my shoulders come out of my ears a smidge. My heart slowed a little. Why? The editor of Poetry magazine has a lot of theories, but this particular bit made me say, yes.
When you’re reading a poem, you’re listening to what someone else is thinking and feeling and saying. It’s not a debate, where somebody punches back at it. You have to think before you speak. You have to think before you write. You have to think while you’re reading. And poetry keeps the intensity and the passion of a point of view, but in a forum where people aren’t hurting each other. It says, “Here’s what it’s like from my point of view.” All you have to do is listen to the poet.
Poetry can be the balm, it can be the catalyst. It can comfort, it can mobilize. But the poets aren’t the only ones making this whole mess clearer. I want to share this essay by Mira Jacobs about the questions her (half-Indian, half-Jewish) son is asking her, and the answers she’s giving him, the answers she’s giving all of us.
I think, going forward, the artist’s work (or at least, this artist’s work) must be one of openness. I so often feel scared to write openly about my life. I stay comfortable – here’s a muffin recipe! I made a pie! – and I like talking about those things. This blog is about a writer who cooks, after all, so the cooking is essential.
But I’m a writer. This is the work, to tell stories. Lucy Knisely pointed out on Instagram this morning that there’s a certain vulnerability in allowing people into your life by telling your story. But there’s also an openness, an opportunity for empathy. It would be a shame to miss out on empathy because of fear.
The poem is a catalyst where you’re bringing two different kinds of people together. And at its best, when it works, there’s a kind of spark, and everyone comes away illuminated by what the spark has ignited. – Don Share
We need the artists. We need stories. Huffington Post reminded us of that this week. Let’s make the art. As Glennon Doyle Melton says again and again, you – I, we – were born to do this.