Not many people consider the words they are saying. Once they are said, they cannot be unsaid. Ironically, the spoken word is as temporary as regular conversation, which rarely bids to not just build appreciation, but advocation for the power of language. The written word belongs to every person, and every person is a page, ready to continue our conversations, including the ones who opened their inkwells to start them. Here are five poems that show how writing and words effect our lives.
1. "Digging" by Seamus Heaney.
Urgency and performing the task at hand well is one of the priorities given to a writer. The first stanza of this Nobel Prize in Literature poet, carries a dire, if not necessary, weight: "Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; snug as a gun." The tumble of the tides of time show true in the childhood and adulthood of the poem's speaker. The scarcity is boundless, the work is considerate but concise, and the performance is penultimate. It leaves the reader and aspiring writers digging for more.
2. "so you want to be a writer" by Charles Bukowski.
Imposition is the highest form of dastardly. Every writer is a tin man, but somewhere inside them is a beating heart. The issue sometimes is wearing that heart on our sleeves. Charles Bukowski is emotionally calculating without fluff or pomp in his poem about being a writer: "if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, / then wait patiently. / if it never does roar out of you, / do something else." The "something else" could imply that the moment or thought has not presented itself yet until you break the mold or try a different approach. It is a manifesto of ultimatums and affirmations, many and limited respectively. Writing is not all boil and toil. If anything, it is a recipe waiting to be savored at the table.
3. "The Rose That Grew From Concrete" by Tupac Shakur.
Rhythm and poetry makes the spoken and written word work well together. When you know your favorite song by heart, you apply those words and their meaning to your thoughts, your actions, your life. The Harlem-borned rapper, 2Pac, gives life to his experience growing up in disadvantaged and criminalized settings: "Funny it seems, but by keeping its dreams / it learned 2 breathe fresh air." Despite the circumstances of where you are at, that does not mean that this is where you are going. Life is temporary and so are its moments, good and bad. Face the odds, make them even.
4. [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by E.E. Cummings.
Feeling is the best thinking you can do, and E.E. Cummings' poem gets at the heart of just that. He demystifies mystification in a mysterious manner that is both close to home and somewhere where longing is farthest from it. Rather than leave definitions, he invites the reader to supply and feel his own: "and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant / and whatever a sun will always sing is you." Cummings is pressed with life's gifts and who we come to share them with, beat after beat.
5. Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.
Pure fantasy finds the familiar and ordinary gives it more meaning than what it said to be. Ubiquity is not the same as multiplicity; the first is generalized marginalization while the second is a specific series of sensations. With Lewis Carrol's Wonderland creature and poem, Jabberwocky, it is a triumph and freedom of the imagination. The writer breaks conventions after learning them, he lays bricks and to our surprise cements them with Silly Putty instead.
Poems are digestible yet powerful performance pieces of language. They teach us to use our words well.
Other poems to read are "Ozymandias," "The Highwayman," "Spain," "For a Coming Extinction," "God's Grandeur," "The Cremation of Sam McGee," "Tam o' Shanter," "As I Began to Love Myself," and "The Road Not Taken."