It's National Poetry Month, and I've been setting out to discover why we read and write poetry. Today, I've asked Hilary Sherratt to answer the question "why poetry?" I first met Hilary by way of an email forwarded to me by her fiancé, Preston Yancey. “Read this poem,” it said. That was it. I read. I was hooked.
Hilary has a rare way with words. She has poems that make you say “whoa.” (So after her opening line, make sure you snigger extra loud.) After you read her piece, make sure you drop by her place.
I'm not a poet, I'm the hidden in morning traffic undone hair and lonely smile. I'm not a poet, I'm wild bursts of laughter at the wrong end of the dinner table. I'm not a poet, I'm a gyroscope spinning in your closed hands. I'm not a poet, I'm a tangled yarn of words half phrased and loosed over the page like prisoners bolting for the cracked door.
I don't write poetry because I'm a poet.
There'd be no point to the words, then, they'd be only the stricken shadows of a claim of identity, something to put after my name, titles lining up along behind me, wife, lover, student of and knower of and, and, and. I'd say, "I'm a poet" and really just mean to tell you to take me more seriously, treat my words like silver or gold rippling through your hands. I'd say, "I'm a poet" because I'd want you to think I'm a good writer and the title will tell you everything.
I'm not a poet.
I write because the words claw at my insides and there is nothing gentle or lamblike about the way they're born. I write poetry because words are violent against ribcages and there isn't a muscle in my body that can keep them. I write because the words are the tide's relentless turning, and on the days when I do not know where I begin or end I do know that when I hear something beautiful it should be written.
I'm not a poet, because if I tell you I'm a poet I'm not telling you why I write poetry. I'm just telling you that I wish you'd think me a poet.
I write it because the words must be. Because out of nothing we might spin the beautiful.
And because I hear the word midwinter and all I think is:
The lake is still, undisturbed as it must be, the justice of such faithful movement all summer - to hold only itself. And now my request. My hands blush in asking that it might carry me, too, I glare skyward. Is there anything to a body but gravity, the heaving pull of the heart? Is there anything to my hands but a prayer I only half believe? It is midwinter. Must the world still carry me?