One of the reasons poetry hooked me at an early age was because I admired its efficiency with words. People talk too much. They write too much, text too much, listen to too many other people talking, watch too much TV with people talking. Talk. Talk. Talk. Words get cheap. Poetry tries to help them keep their value.
My recent European tour reminded me of this. I found, however, that hearing people talk too much in a foreign language was not nearly as irritating as hearing it in English. I could imagine that what was being said was of more import and occasioned by the sublime. I could imagine that, at least. Fact was, the same kind of chatter was probably going on.
Poetry asks us to witness. All literature asks us to do this, but poetry especially expects and demands that we witness an experience. People who witness must close their mouths. They must open their ears and—dare I add—their hearts to that experience. Poetry expects people to occasionally become acquainted with the virtues of silence. Poetry is the form of writing that is closest to the unsaid.
One of the relaxing things about this vacation was that I had many occasions of being surrounded by groups of strangers sitting or walking in silence—through the Anne Frank House, in Rembrandt’s bedroom, amidst the rosengarten in Bern, Switzerland, in the middle of the Parthenon looking up at the perfect circle of sky the roof allowed.
I love words. And people talk too much. And sometimes they shut up and allow poetry in—whether they know it or not.