WOM-PO, a women’s poetry list serve, has had a round of posts in the past week lauding a poem by Alicia Ostriker recently published in Plume, an online poetry journal. “Q&A,” the poem, has touched many women on the list serve, setting off numerous exclamations of “Brava!” and appreciation for the poem’s content, format and effect.
Why are we drawn to questions? What is the role of literature, of poetry specifically, in asking questions and answering questions we don’t even know we have? As William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.”
The truth telling of poetry is the truth telling of breath, how language and thought move through us to create meaning and carry it into the rhythm of our bodies. Poetry is a distillation of experience into a music that hums under the surface of conscious awareness. A well written poem reaches past what we know about the words collected on the page and tugs at a deeper understanding than what our logical mind constructs from those words, until we understand that we feel something deeper, even if we can’t exactly name what it is.
All of which reminds me of a poem I wrote years ago about exactly this, after asking myself a simple question.
What would be enough? Sometimes
it’s simply getting through
this hour and the next. Sometimes
it’s the hours dropping away, the day
a river of light, the passage
of sun moving shadows across snow.
More rare, the swelling of enough,
like a pool filling at the unreachable
core I can feel but not locate,
that comes sudden and sweet – the thin
chip of a cardinal on a winter
morning, the sun rising north
of the white pine, again, the last
clothespin clipped to the sheet’s corner
as the hemmed end charges a clear sky.