If short stories are an appetizer, a novel an entree, and a series of books a 10 course meal, then poetry is molecular gastronomy or a deconstructed dessert. Poems, made of succinctly chosen words, often saturate each syllable with meaning. Small words are packed and stacked with significance.
When describing poetry, I used to have a hard time explaining what I like. But as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said when trying to explain "hard-core" pornography, or what is obscene, "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced...[b]ut I know it when I see it…”
I recently watched a segment on CBS Morning News that will forever change how I talk about poetry. Potter and author Edmund de Waal was interviewed about his works of clay and words. He’s a renowned artist and best-selling author, a doubly gifted guy. His pottery is deceptively simple. He makes white pots. At first, looking at these pots, I thought, “Big whoop. They are white pots.” It wasn’t until he placed all of his seemingly dull pots together, next to each other, one after the other, did their diabolical magic emerge. No two the same, the nuances of the glazed surfaces, the cracks and imperfections, and the startling different-ness of each pot became eye candy. Where some were broken, he filled the cracks with gold. Placed randomly on shelves, they were musical notes at various heights and with significant spaces. The gaps between them were achingly engaging.
During the CBS interview, de Waal’s quote about the thread that binds his two passions fired new synapses in my noggin regarding poetry.
For de Waal there's no contradiction between his two great talents. There is instead the single shared vocabulary that informs his life.
"The common denominator is poetry, and for me that poetry is charged language, and in some ways, that's kind of what I hope my installations do – they take unbelievably simple vessels, but if you put them together in the right order, in the right place, in the right form, then it's like poetry. It's charged objects. It's charged things in the world. And that's poetry."
That caught my attention. I was impacted when I learned about charged objects earlier this year. After an emotionally intense equine workshop, all who participated received a small token. Each person held each token in their hand, looked the recipient in the eye, and charged the object with their energy. “Kim,” one person said to me, “don’t try to run 15 horses at once. Run one horse at a time.” Over and over the tokens received our energy. I still touch my token, placed on my desk, and feel intensely loved and confident and determined to let nothing stop me.
This intense force shows up on laundry day too, of all places. Electrons moving from object to object creates static cling, causing the prickly, tenacious death grip of my sock and my sweatpants. The power of these tiny, unseen electrons, in the right order, in the right place, in the right form, hold together objects that normally would slide away.
So poetry is the conglomeration of charged word objects, holding together thoughts and realizations and wonder and magic that otherwise could slide off one’s plate. No wonder poetry, when done right, is so powerful. I may not be able to describe it, but I know it when I see it.