As I sat and sipped with Pablo Neruda the other day, letting my mind and heart go wander the fields they fancy while dancing with his verse, a surprising visitor came knocking upon my spirit…an unbidden yet interesting interlocutor that I never would have thought to bring into the conversation…. Emily Dickinson.
Unable to completely return to Neruda, I listened to her remind me of her own passionate response to good poetry…If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?
I sipped, and tilted a bit, my head resting comfortably in its favored position for considering. Perhaps it was the freedom in the breeze from the ocean as I walked La Isla Negra or in between the lines of the Carta en Camino…but here in the middle of Missouri, in a coffeeshop and very much alive, I didn’t think twice about responding to the question posed by a New England poet born in 1830 while reading words of a Chilean poet who died in 1973. In fact, it was as though Emily Dickinson was asking me to respond.
Is there any other way?
For me, oh yes…yes, there are other ways to know. I know when I feel a full body ache to expand, because what I feel needs more room…I know when I want to pick up a pen to talk and can only write AUGH!!! in the margin…I know when everything inside me cries to be set free…I know when I feel as though if I could let go just enough, I might well rise. I know when I knock on the syllables and ask to come inside…I know when I feel them come up behind me and startle me not unpleasantly by their nearness.
I can understand your images and appreciate the passionate intensity they describe. But, my body knows a different language of response. Far from poetry taking off the top of my head, dear Emily…Poetry helps make me whole. It draws me toward justice, toward love, toward God, toward being more human, toward freedom. That is why I read you, and Pablo, and Walt; Mary and Wislawa and Mario; Leon, Octavio, and William; Naomi, Thomas, and Teresa; Nikki, Alice, and Langston; Gabriela, Hafiz, Rumi, and e.e. …
That is why I write it too.
Ultimately, though, I don’t think we are saying different things….just using different language to express the Word that is poetry.
And my other companion, Neruda…he waited patiently until I came back to him and then began again to make my spirit shimmy with his humid, ink-rich verse.