E.B. White is one of my favorite writers. His language is so enthralling and poetic, fresh and transformative. I can get lost in his words. This is an essay I wrote hugely inspired by E.B. White’s The Essayist. What would you define in the prose of the wonderful Mr. White?
The poet is an ambitious individual, enthralled by the mysteries of human nature and convinced that it is his or her duty to figure it out, to pick apart its bones, to interrogate it as it recoils in its metal chair, all shriveled and wrung out of information. She is an observer of the complex universe humanity strives to, but can’t, have. She spends her time in thought, much like how stargazers spend their time in awe. Each new venture of the poet, each new exploration, is an added layer to the question, whatever that question might be. This enlivens the poet. Only someone with such naïve idealism can create poetry, as a poet writes to resolve.
The types of poems are as many as the types of Jelly Belly flavors, poem voices as varied and unpredictable as the disposition of a three-year-old. The poet comforts herself in her arsenal of verse, selecting her choice of shield, sword, bow, or arrow, depending on her reason for battle: love, defense, remorse, revenge, confusion, release, inspiration, denial. I love the poem. I always have. It first entered my childhood in the form of song, and its abstract layers of discovery captivated me. I threw my thoughts into the concise yet adaptable format, and to this day, it remains my weapon of choice. But poems invite haziness, a quality I see some may find uncomfortable. The poet must be content with ambivalence if she is to imagine a solution to a problem no human can solve. One with pragmatism best not be a poet. A poet is messy, a poet is confused, and a poet creates a world in which this disarray is the fuel. Someone looking for answers would not find consolation in poetry, as poems are ongoing explorations of humanity, asking and asking, but they never—though they get unbelievably close—get answered.
People flock to poetry for compassion; Compassion: from Latin cum “with” and passio “suffering”—the word literally means “sharing pain”, and this is what I think makes poetry so appealing. People are tired of being told how to fix their problems, and there’s a certain liberation in sharing the tumult of finding a solution. This is the glue of poetry: the unification, the use of human vulnerability to rile up the masses in a movement to figure out life. A poet has this power, and therefore, a poet can be dangerous. A poet must be wary of becoming “preachy”. She must keep a humble check and remember what drew her to the fine words of poetry in the first place.
This, of course, is a difficult balance to strike. It is human nature to want recognition, as I so often find myself wanting. In fact, I consider vanity my biggest vice. Poets are philosophical in nature, always writing and questioning in order to know more, a blessing as well as a hindrance, as questioning can lead to self-doubt. For example, I question myself in the writing of this very essay. I advise poets not to “preach”, a statement verging on hypocritical. Did I not just “preach” myself? How can I dare to instruct others if I cannot even straighten out my own doubts? Given that poetry is less about the answers than the journey of thought, perhaps I am asking the wrong questions. A poet is hazy, yes, and often gets caught up in the “why?”, as I just did. But it is this very mind-war that bolsters the compassionate verse poets produce, the war that inspires the poet to reach into her arsenal and fight through her uncertainty.
The poet is an ambitious individual, one without a sound destination—yes—but determined nonetheless. For someone to find the poets that revel in ambiguity is shocking, yet incredibly freeing. The poet recognizes the place of humanity, acknowledges that we cannot possibly know everything, and knows that the world is bigger than the people inhabiting it. I have wrestled with the idea that I cannot solve everything. Swinging in-between knowing and not, there was no concept of “figuring out” in my mind. The poet has showed me the gray areas.
And now, I can be at rest.