Huh?, Ahhhhh, Ahhaaa

Posted by Daniela Elza on Nov 30 2008

My friend in Seattle, Jim, kindly sends me clippings from newspapers, and magazines on topics related to poetry. I am very grateful for these updates, since I do not get a lot of time to look through newspapers, and it will not occur to me to look for thoughts or opinions on poetry, in what we regard as “news”.

Yesterday, while I was organizing some of my papers, I came across a few from April this year in celebration of poetry month from The Christian Science Monitor. One was titled, Poetry that makes my world shift by Dawn Goldsmith. In it she relates her love-hate relationship with poetry. The distance between Huh? (I don’t get it) and Ahaaaaa, or Ahhhhh.

In her recognition for the need for poetry she says:

Sometimes my thoughts become set in concrete. I see everything the same way I have always seen it. My narrow little world and my teeny-tiny focused perspective fits so familiarly within my life that I don’t consider any other way of seeing something.

She talks about how in this narrowing of our world we do not let ourselves experience things, or trust our senses enough, or “someone has to tell me what I am looking at or I might miss what I am supposed to see.”
And a poem can make a difference. Can shift us into a different mode, a different perspective.

    [As an aside here, I am thinking how one would think philosophy should do that as well. And it does sometimes, when we buckle down and read the tomes that should disclose some alternate view, some shift. Yet, time is not on the side of the thick book with the strangely convoluted language, taking a painstaking path to get to some nugget of “truth” that could shift our perspective. Since there never is a guarantee, maybe risking it with a poem is a much more efficient way. At least you do not feel like your Huh? took too long to get to. End of aside comment.]

Which is the flip side of revelation for Dawn Goldsmith: that dreaded feeling when she reads a poem and is at a loss ( huh)?

I cannot believe there is one person out there who reads poetry and always knows what it is saying. I read poetry and write poetry, and publish poetry, and learn from other’s poetry and my own, as well. I have to admit, sometimes I will read a poem and in flustered exasperation will say: Huh?

But that does not stop me form believing in, and seeking, those moments of epiphany: a kind of recognition, a kind of remembering that I have been here before, and never quite managed to lock this thought or feeling into words. And right here is a line, a verse, or a poem that managed to grasp that for me. I am now reminded of a quote another friend of mine, Roger, sent me:

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.”
—Anais Nin

Are our Huh?s a sign that we have never been here before, and boy, I have nothing to relate to here, nothing in me that comes to meet the writer on the page, or are they a sign of an unsuccessful poem?

The other piece I read was tilted: Poetry is essential to politics, and to us by Danny Heitman. He talks about John Adams, who “never seemed to doubt poetry mattered.”
Two quotes here that cought my attention:

“No one should be surprised that this key player in the American Revolution loved poetry, since the deepest reading of a good poem isn’t just a wistful hobby, its a revolutionary act.”

Heitman quotes J.F. Kennedy to have said:

“When power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations.” and “When power narrows the areas of man’s concerns, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”(1963)

In the personal sphere, and in the social/political sphere poetry (and writing in general) is important: for those who write it and for those who read it. It is a way of making meaning, and sharing meaning. It is a revolutionary act: many have lost their lives for writing it. If it is not an epiphany for the reader, it probably was for the writer. Ultimately, I think it can effect personal growth, take care of the soul: a kind of apprenticeship to freedom.

One Response to “Huh?, Ahhhhh, Ahhaaa”

  1. RobTaylor Says:

    Ha! (or should I say HHHHHAAAAAAAAA!?) I’d never seen that Radner clip before – good stuff.

    I like the comments on poetry and politics – with Ghana’s national elections coming up on December 7th, we’re talking about the connection between the two a lot over at OGOV – should have a bit of a discussion on that posted in 5-6 days.

    Oh, and I have a poem for you, but I don’t think I have an email address – send me an email at roblucastaylor(at) so I can reply with the poem!