Why Poetry?

by Conrad Martin

Welcome to the first of the Curator’s weekly blog posts. You will find an invitation to the future of this venture after you hear four confessions from four of our editors. By way of introduction, we assigned ourselves each to write one or two short paragraphs on why we find poetry worthy.

We said:

“I read poetry for the melody of its language and the harmony of its meanings. I delight in the triumph of the Song of Moses, in the declaiming of the prophets, and in the loveliness of the Song of Solomon. Some phrases ring in my ear; some haunt me with their echoes; but most I love the poems that leave me quiet and lead me beyond myself to an experience of transcendence. It has seemed to me that this silence, or vision, that I experience after a good story or a good poem helps me to reframe the world in such a way that I can understand what is truly valuable.

“In an indefinable way, I think that poetry makes us better people. There is a hunger in us that is not satisfied by facts or by formulas that our minds can grasp. Sometimes our souls need to meditate on things of depth and beauty—things that our minds cannot entirely understand. The meaning of a poem goes far beyond the meaning of each individual word—the sounds and connotations of words ascend together to add to a poem’s meaning. This is the closest we can come to creating living things; poetry is not alive in itself, but it can come alive in its hearers, who can be transformed through their experience of beauty.”

—Lynn Martin

“For me, poetry is a work of distilled language, that in its concentrated form offers up simultaneous levels of meaning and experience that expand and enhance one another. This happens in so many different ways, and good poetry usually includes several of them at once. The sound of words can create a natural or effortless feeling of music. The rhythm of speech through its stresses, and the repetition of similar sounds can provide a sense of rest and expectedness from which surprises of meaning can further gratify and enlighten. The connotations of words can call certain emotions to piece. Imagery and sensory detail as well can create feeling, and communicate experience. Metaphors and allegories can deepen and expand our access to meaning beyond our usual use of the one-to-one correspondence of words to objects.

“Overall, good poetry is a sort of lens, helping us to understand, through the insights of others, what sort of beings we are and what the reality we find ourselves in is like. This lens may be a clear window, letting us in on the delights of some near subject. It may be a mirror, reflecting back what complexities and shortcomings in ourselves we might better understand and transcend. Like reality, poetry need not always be light, or even emotionally or aesthetically pleasing, but it should always be capable of giving us a clearer vision, whether by likeness or by contrast, of our human potential to be in consort with the good, the true, and the beautiful.”

—Obi Martin

“Most of life has a dimension of beauty and intricacy that is inexpressible through standard language. I like thinking of poetry as the fourth dimension, which allows for a vantage point otherwise unattainable. Imagine someone who has only seen two-dimensional photographs of the Grand Canyon, finally visiting and sensing the vast depth and surroundings for the first time—so also is life with poetry and art. Through this analogy of poetry as the fourth dimension I am often dragged out of the mundane back into the perspective of awe that is so quietly lost in the deafening noise of living.”

—James Weaver

“Poetry is heightened awareness. Through the elements of sound and association, image and metaphor, rhythm, sequence, and proportion, or through the strategic misuse of any and all of these, and unlimited more—in other words, through something like Design—a poem gives deeper expression to reality. All language does this to some degree, but poetry is more intense because it is more condensed; its layers are deeper, closer, bringing synchrony into our separateness. Awareness is simultaneity. My favorite poems act like funnels, gathering to an opening closure in the last line. Converging time and space into a moment, these poems draw me toward inward unity and outward worship.

“Poetry expresses life because it mirrors the act of divine creation—in language we feel echoes of the Spirit of God speaking from eternity, drawing Form out of chaos and void. And perhaps poetry is half chaos—as much premonition and prophecy as it is echo—the Spirit moving over the face of the deep, about to speak.”

—Conrad Martin

Thank you for reading our first blog post. Our plan is to publish something every week, in addition to the weekly poem we hope you have already been receiving. Expect a variety of genre and topic. We hope to publish lots of poetry explications, wherein we take a poem, either one of our own or something classic or excellent, and either tear it apart to see what makes it tick (if it’s me doing it) or creatively unfold it, exploring the textures and cadences of meaning (if it’s someone else doing it).

You may hear poets explaining or giving story context for their own poems, including ones we’ve published in the past. Expect an occasional but ambitious attempt at literary philosophy. We will consider God’s purposes for art, grappling with issues specific to Christianity—and maybe even specific to Anabaptism. Don’t expect us to fully agree among ourselves about pretty much any of this. Expect a wide variety in tone and style, both academic and personal/freestyle. We reserve the right to break out into poetry at the whim of the wind. Expect to share your own murmurs of affirmation, amendment, and critique in the comments following. Also, use that space to suggest ideas for future posts—what you’re curious about, what bothers you, or just what you can’t keep from saying somewhere.

Again, thanks for reading,
Conrad, for the Curator

Artwork: Santa Maria Della Salute by Moonlight Frederick Nerly the Younger, 1824-1919.

3 thoughts on “Welcome, and Why Poetry?”

  1. If a certain slant of light on winter afternoons never oppresses one’s soul with heavenly hurt (like cathedral tunes), neither will blog posts. 🙂 But there must be voices in the wilderness. Bravo to the Curators who sing of dappled things!
    Rescue the perishing! Everywhere souls are numb; electricity is short-circuiting the heavenly hurt. Markham’s cry today would be “The Man With the Phone.”
    Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans/Upon his knees and gazes at the screen,/The
    emptiness of pixels in his face,/And on his back the burden of the world…/Etc., etc,…
    Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?….Etc., etc…

    1. Thank you, James, for not being able to keep from speaking of that certain slant, and for the generous implication. The encouragement is un-numbing.

      I hope your “screen” is merely metonomy, and “pixels” but a symbol of the same dull breath that blew out the ox-brother’s light. Otherwise… how radical would we be?

      1. “Screen” = iPhone, “pixels” = Facebook. The ox-brother dies of banality. Everyone “shares” and no one weeps.
        You’re welcome.

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