When poet Tracy K. Smith told NPR this week that poetry was a way we could get away from “the moments in our lives that are characterized by language that has to do with necessity,” I felt a tremendous twinge and stopped reading the story at that sentence. Smith had hit close to home.
Poetry, in my life, has become exactly an escape from certain language.
Before I’d read Smith’s quote, the escape part was already pretty clear in my mind. But I hadn’t understood as well what I was escaping until she put it the way she did: I was escaping the language of necessity. In that tongue, everyone needed something or needed to respond to someone else’s need. The language of necessity was more than vocabulary. It had grammar, idiom, vocalization, and accents. Necessity was air, and as we expressed its language, we breathed only out of a sense of requirement.
This realization is not the happiest one. But at least there’s escape.
So, I owe thanks to three poems in the last week: David Baker’s “Old Man Throwing a Ball,” Louise Gluck’s “An Adventure” (yes! even Gluck, once a foe on the page and now becoming a friend) and Alice Fulton’s “The Next Big Thing,” which The New Yorker has put behind a paywall and no wilder-than-I Interneter has yet liberated. But know Fulton’s poem contains this passage: “I feel free as water fangling over stone and falling / with a dazzle on the next big thing, presence / ribboned up in ink, instant and constant, / all tied up in a gift. Just wrap the world / around a pen and draw a cradle in a lake / and in the cradle draw a flywheel / free from mortal rust.”