Look up at the sky.
Depending on the day, you probably saw either blue spattered with white, or a grey overcast. Maybe it was raining. Maybe the sun was bright. Maybe, if you were lucky, there were birds flying through the air, or a plane leaving a jetstream in its wake. Whatever you saw, it contained, in some degree, the essence of beauty—a palette of colour tones richer than the most ambitious painter’s toolbox, or a shawl of ash that reminded you that somewhere in the world there is a rejuvenating chill of rain falling on the earth like the tiny fingers of dancing stars. In whatever way it took shape, you saw something beautiful.
Poetry has, by and large, fallen by the wayside. The number of people that read it is on a sharp decline, and seems for all intents and purposes to some days be next to nothing. 2013 Gustafson poet Michael Crummey recently gave a talk at Vancouver Island University about “Surviving Poetry in the 21st Century,” as though beauty is now a treacherous wasteland to be navigated. There were many moving and poignant points made during his address, but most of them seemed centred around the idea that “poetry still matters to us (the poetry enthusiasts),” rather than “poetry should matter to everyone.” Instead of a rallying cry to a group of hopefuls, Crummey’s speech felt more like a consolatory pat on the shoulder—a “hang in there” instead of a “rise up and conquer.”
It’s understandable that poetry is not a priority to most people. When people think of poetry, they usually conjure up images of dusty books filled with iambic pentametre. What they don’t realize, however, is that poems are not the sole form of poetry; they’re one form, and certainly the most well-known, but only because writing and books have been the most efficient method of communication for centuries. Poetry is, in essence, the idea of communicating the beauty of life, whether that beauty takes the form of a verse about a pretty girl, a song about summer, or an address to the sky. But it can also be found in the damp clouds of a rainy afternoon, the exhilarating thrill of a tackle or touchdown pass during a game of pickup football, a bittersweet goodbye to a lost lover, or the irony in a bird-dropping in the shape of a smiley-face on the hood of your car. Poetry is stopping to say “this world is amazing,” in whatever form it takes.
When I asked Crummey about sharing poetry with the world at large, he seemed somewhat stumped. He was quick to explain that poetry was certainly important, but didn’t seem to understand the idea of reaching outside of books to share it with people. What is amazing about the evolution of technology and social media today is that we’ve been given tools to share thought and information on a vaster scale than anything ever imagined. A single Facebook status or Tweet can reach hundreds or thousands of people. Usually, statuses and tweets are reserved for updates telling our friends about the burger we had for lunch, but there’s no reason they can’t be about beauty, poetry, or life. Anyone can look at the sky and say it’s beautiful, but not enough people do, and even fewer take the time to share that beauty with others.
The future of poetry is uncertain. Scarcely sold collections of verse might disappear from book-shelves completely, along with the idea of physical books altogether, but in a better future, poetry will transcend the need for books. People all over the world might stop and realize that everything around them—music, television, movies, sports, conversation, texts, tweets, laughs, smiles, moments at every interval of their life—contain within them the spark of something poetic. Poetic thinking is the most important part of poetry, not the act of writing poems. Fancy language and metaphors are what we use now, because poetry is a language-based medium and has been written down for so long that these are some of the most poignant tools we have to express the beauty around us. Now, there’s no reason poetry can’t be as simple as saying “Stop. Look at the sky. Isn’t it beautiful?”
My request to everyone reading this is to not be afraid of the word “poetry.” Don’t think of “poems” and remember metred verse and big words written in a way you couldn’t understand. Think about the sky, the moon, the smile of your best friend. Think about how everything in life only happens once, and every moment that we share with someone is a beautiful part of existence that we are lucky to experience. Think poetically. Tell people you know about the things you find wonderful, beautiful, inspirational. Call yourself a poet if you feel it in your heart. And for all the traditionalists stuck in books, don’t give up. Read your poetry out loud. Read it to everyone who will listen. Say what needs to be said about life, and do everything you can to make people stop, think, and feel.
The world is a beautiful place. Poetry just means taking the time to notice it.