Why Writers (And the Rest of Us) Need Poetry

Why Writers Need Poetry

Poetry is difficult for me.  I can’t identify the rhythm scheme of a stanza to save my life, and I was never very interested in doing so. Yes, I did the required reading for school; yes, I memorized The Ride of Paul Revere; but if you asked me, the style got in the way of the story. It would take up so much less space if we didn’t stack the lines. And at least that was a story-poem, the best kind in my opinion. The poems for just poetry, of snow and leaves and fog creeping in on little cat feet– I could do without them. When I left highschool and Edward Lear behind, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had no time for all of that.

Perhaps it’s not odd that I had this view, all things considered. After all, we live in a  scientific, straightforward, and practical culture. Lines section our sky, from towers to plane trails to power lines. We live in a world of checklists and traffic lanes, everyone always rushing by with something to do. We live in a reality where things have an exact place and a strict definition. A house is just a dwelling for people. A pen is just an instrument for making markings on paper. A star is just a globe of gas billions of cold miles away.

But poetry asks, what if we’re wrong? What if every star was a burning flame?

Poetry refuses to leave us with “just’s”. It sees meaning in everything. It searches and longs for something deeper, calling for something more than our science and facts and practicality. She looks for the Why, the Reason, the Teleos behind it all. She refuses to bow to our timetables and our demands for instantaneous knowledge, for she gives her wisdom only to those who sit in silence at her feet, only to those who walk the slow path beside her, only to those who take the time to hear her words again and again.

Poetry shows us that life is not a meaningless list; no, not even a straightforward workflow. Life weaves and threads and bobs and tangles itself together, so that stars are much like flowers and flowers much like umbrellas and umbrellas much like loneliness. There’s a grand mesh holding it all together, a something more that links everything to every other thing. Yes, the gift poetry gives may sometimes be hard to understand, but perhaps that’s because she’s truly giving us everything.

So poetry is indubitably important to the writer. I’ve learned that. Though most of my daily poetry consumption comes from musicians like The Gray Havens, I can still see how it has deepened and matured my writing. Poetry forces you to consider every word, to see that every phrase can bear two meanings, to create metaphors that carry the point closer to home. Are those not necessary skills for the writer? Yet poetry is necessary for us as people too.

Because we all need to be reminded that there is more to life than just facts. Formulas may explain how something works, but it doesn’t truly grasp the entirety. Science may dissect the frog and tell us all about his anatomy, yet in the end we are left with a still-dead frog. We can become caught up in our spreadsheets and calendars and control over our world of boxes and lines. But poetry beckons us to something more. To the Someone who is more.

The One who was more than just God or just man; He who is the Just and the Justifier(Rom 3:26). He gave us our longings for something deeper; He is the Why, the Purpose, the Teleos behind it all. Though, scientifically, we are electrical pulses pushing masses of muscle, in Him we truly live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). He is not constrained nor obligated to our timetables and demands; rather, we grow closer to Him by sitting at His feet like Mary, by trodding faithfully in His quiet way, by ever returning daily to His Word. He doesn’t work according to our straightforward ways and wisdom; He is weaving together a thousand different threads, delighting in the small and unusual things, inexplicably using them for His purposes (1 Cor. 1:18-28).

He didn’t make a world full of “just” things. He made a world where stones shout His praises (Luke 19:14), trees clap for gladness (Isa. 55:12), seas are as glass (Rev. 15:2), and stars dance. He ties all of life together, using sheep to teach us about sin (Isa 53:6), water about new life (John 3:5), and the Sun to reveal the world that is to come (Isa. 60:20). He is the mesh that holds it all together, whose song and creation and glory is pulsing through everything, connecting it to every other thing.

So we need poetry. It makes us more than cold robots, counting numbers and the statistics of survival. It makes us human, helping us to consider how to truly live. It pulls us into the Divine, pointing us up to Him who is the Life.

So take some time for poetry today. For beauty, for delighting in the small things in the world, for wondering and pondering Reality in a different light. Remember that the God of math is the God of rhythm too. He is fact, yes, for truth is solid. But He’s also poetry, truth dancing about in delight of the beauty that is.

So take the time to hear it, and in some small way, to join in

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