By Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
It’s years ago, at a wedding: I see a man standing stiffly in a suit that stretches tight across his broad shoulders. He has one of those powerful, thickly muscular builds you know does not come from hours in a gym, but from a lifetime of hard labor. He shifts his weight, keeps looking over his shoulder as if he half expects to be escorted out at any minute. It’s obvious he’s uncomfortable, feeling out of place and, by how often he cranes his neck and tugs at his sleeves, that he doesn’t usually wear a jacket and tie.
He remains just outside the parameter of the action, chatting occasionally, but mostly just standing, his hands clasped in front of him, observing, as the DJ plays the usual rousing wedding dance numbers. Then the opening strains of Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” start, and he quickly walks over to a woman nearby, takes her hand and leads her to the dance floor.
As he hugs her to him and they begin to sway it is immediately obvious they have danced together, and to this song, many times before. She is tiny compared to him, encircled by his arms, and he holds her so closely her ear is almost pressed to his lips. With his head tilted toward her, his mouth barely moving, he is singing to her. She is listening with her whole body. His eyes are pressed tightly closed, perhaps to hold back tears. It does not matter to either of them who else is in the room.
This is what poetry, what art does for us. It gives us a voice where we have none; allows us to share what we don’t know how to share. It fills those places in our lives where words fail us because it allows us to acknowledge there are some experiences, some feelings, there simply are no words for.
I’ve written before that poetry begins where language fails us. On Valentine’s Day we look for metaphors to express our feelings, whether they are in the (questionable) poetry of a greeting card or the symbolism of a red rose. Handing someone a heart-shaped box of chocolates might be seen as a sentimental cliché, but it is also a powerful metaphor: I give you my heart, and what I carry in my heart for you is luscious, soft and sweet, and offered in the hope of bringing you joy.
We need the help of poetry and art (and, yes, a hand-made truffle is a work of art!) because most of us, like the imagined lover in Thomas Lux’s poem below, are so clumsy at expressing ourselves.
I Love You Sweatheart
A man risked his life to write the words.
A man hung upside down (an idiot friend
holding his legs?) with spray paint
to write the words on a girder fifty feet above
a highway. And his beloved,
the next morning driving to work…?
His words are not (meant to be) so unique.
Does she recognize his handwriting?
Did he hint to her at her doorstep the night before
of “something special, darling, tomorrow”?
And did he call her at work
expecting her to faint with delight
at his celebration of her, his passion, his risk?
She will know I love her now,
the world will know my love for her!
A man risked his life to write the words.
Love is like this at the bone, we hope, love
is like this, Sweatheart, all sore and dumb
and dangerous, ignited, blessed – always,
regardless, no exceptions,
always in blazing matters like these: blessed.
Since 1986, The Dodge Poetry Program has been blessed by poets who have given tirelessly of themselves out of love for their art so the Dodge Festival and Schools Program can continue to help people discover or rediscover their connection to poetry. Whether by giving so openly and generously of themselves in school visits, poetry sessions for teachers and in readings and conversations at the Festival, or by donating the use of a poem (Thanks, Tom!), local, national and international poets have made the Dodge Poetry Program the unique friend to poetry it is.
This Valentine’s Day, we ask you to share the love with us, the Dodge Poetry Program, by becoming a Friend of the Festival. You can make a contribution in honor of your Valentine, in honor of your favorite poem or poet, or simply to let us know you appreciate the work we do bringing poetry to teachers, students and the general public. Click here to see how your donation can help.
The Dodge Poetry staff wishes you a lovely Valentine’s Day.
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