Recently, a friend told me that she “couldn’t begin to understand” my poetry – a
not a criticism, but her way of apologizing for not knowing what to say about it. I was (1) surprised – because compared to a lot of what’s out there, my work is pretty straightforward. And (2) not surprised – because for most people I come in contact with, poetry is something esoteric and indecipherable, a foreign language. It’s reading Isaiah and thinking “What the…?”
I also recently decided to listen to a podcast from Poetry magazine during a workout (instead of – don’t judge me – Katy Perry on Pandora), and they were interviewing some guy (Matthew Bevis) about an essay he wrote called “Unknowing Lyric.” (It’s NA now, so I’m relying on my terrible memory). They talked about the idea that the source of power in any good poem comes from its ability to “unknow” what you “know.” It makes you re-examine your assumptions, it disorients you, it makes you feel a bit bewildered, it resists simplification and summary, resists analysis because there’s an ineffable quality to it. If it were simpler and easier to dissect, it wouldn’t have a lasting hold on you.
This was recently studied as a physical phenomena at a German university, revealing that what poetry does to the brain is (1) unique – not like listening to music or watching a film, and (2) analogous to the emotional arousal of unwrapping a chocolate bar.
Who doesn’t relate to that?
This “bewilderment,” for those of us who love literature, is a beautiful, powerful thing. It’s what keeps us coming back to the poetic. When the rest of the world is Real Housewives and Pinterest and mundane and memes, to be in the presence of authentic language that comes from a deep soul is refreshing. To feel a little bewildered (and I do mean “a little”), is life-affirming. To feel emotionally connected to someone you’ve never met through a single poem nourishes our humanity and empathy, and counteracts the paradigms of other-ness we’re surrounded by in the media. To feel a little bewildered draws our attention to the explosion of life in each detail of our existence, reminds us of the significance of each moment in a way that great loss does. It puts a magnifying glass to our lives.
So here’s to literary bewilderment – and the way it is strangely satisfying.
Pressings by Sarah Dunster
Grape Hyacinth by Sarah Colby
What’s In a Name Change by Sylvia Newman
Interview with Allie Condie by Terresa Wellborn
“Emma Smith as an ‘Elect Lady’ and the Relief Society Rooted in Revelation and Power” by Fiona Givens
an excerpt from Dialogue Journal Vol. 49, No. 1- Spring 2016