In conversation with my mentor, I once said that I like running marathons because it requires a certain toughness. He stopped me right after that word–toughness–and corrected me.
“I think you mean strength.”
“Yeah. Tough...strong...same thing.”
He raised his eyebrows, dropped his head just a touch, and stared me down over the tops of his glasses. That gaze that seems exclusively reserved for mentors speaking to mentees. He spoke:
“Tough is like cold metal. What happens when you apply pressure to cold metal?”
“Yes. It breaks. What about with hot metal?”
“It bends. Exactly. Cold metal is tough; stubborn and steadfast, and eventually breaks beyond repair. Hot metal is strong; flexible and adaptable. It reacts to outside pressure without breaking. It reforms. Running a marathon tough could leave you with injury and burnout. Running it strong will bring you through the pain and challenge, changed for the better on the other side.”
I share this anecdote for National Poetry Month because I believe poetry is a perfect example of this kind of “hot-metal-strength.” On the one hand, poetry allows us to be tenderly expressive and vulnerable. And on the other, it gives us the invaluable opportunity to take up our space, share our stories, and feel indomitably powerful. Poetry is strong, and makes us so, in both its product and the process required to create it (and let’s not forget that poetry can also be exceedingly fun and enjoyable).
Poetry teaches us that size is not necessarily related to strength. Quantity is not quality. Indeed, there are plenty of poems that strike our hearts more profoundly than the most wordy of novels. Sometimes, Truth (with a capital T) only needs a few lines:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
“...[B]ut I have promises to keep…” So much of our human condition so perfectly captured in six words. The tension of new desires and existing commitments. The internal conflict engendered by that balancing act. All that, that deeply complex emotion, described in just six words. Well played, Mr. Frost.
My favorite aspect of poetry is how it lends to movement and performance. We are made to move through this world, and we find deep comfort in cadence and rhythm. It’s how we feel synchronized and connected. Performed poetry embodies this fundamental need and disposition to move, especially to a rhythm.
Poetry is intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual. It gives the poet a place to stand, to speak, and (most importantly) to be strong. There are rules and structure, but always room to bend and break these parameters. There is space for both autonomy and conformity, individualism and connection. I can think of no other form of writing that deserves thirty days of dedicated praise and celebration.
Write a poem.
Hug a poet.
Read some poetry.
Happy National Poetry Month!
Have fun with it,
...for the most part.
Yours in service,