Poetry for Resilience

I looked this morning for Eliot Cohen, who is a thinker on international affairs respected by my husband. He has a Twitter account which makes it easy to find his latest articles, unlike many of the thinkers my husband admires who stay away from the hoi polloi. I wanted his take on recent international affairs. What I found instead was an encomium to poetry.

I used to memorize poetry for the sheer joy of reciting it over and over to myself. Poems kept company on lonely walks before audio books and podcasts were a thing. I was a lonely child and poetry was a friend.

Why did I stop? I think it was grad school. I spent too much time in literature classes where professors and peers told me that my taste was wrong and noxious; that I should like some poems I didn’t, and dislike some poems I loved.

Back then I made a note to myself to work on enjoying better poets, those that didn’t speak to me. I put it on my list of things to do to improve myself. And, like eating daily salads and making my bed each morning, I didn’t do it. I stopped reading poetry altogether. I’d set an invidious trap for myself.

Eliot Cohen says that this is the time for poetry. “It does not matter which poems [you] learn. You can be quite sure that the powerful ones will stick.”

The crying need of our time is resilience, the ability not only to endure adversity and stress, but to recover our equanimity and even be strengthened by the ordeal.

Eliot Cohen

This week another person I know lost someone they love to Covid-19. Also, J. Michael Straczinski, someone I admire passionately, mourns the death of his friend Susan Ellison, Harlan Ellison’s wife. This is part of the tapestry of our time. So many of the strands have been cut short, leaving a bare place in the tapestry and in our hearts.

I don’t talk about this much because I know that you are experiencing it too. The last thing you need is a daily recounting of horribles from me. I bring it up today because poetry is another way we survive perilous times. It’s how we memorialize people we’ve lost. It is a gift from past writers to us, voicing our fears, speaking of hope, and lighting a flame of courage to keep us warm through our travails. I’d forgotten that.

Today I’ll pick up some of my favorites (long out of fashion) and read them with an open heart, letting them speak to me. Then I’ll look for new poets. Not as a way to improve myself, but to find joy and determination in our factious and dangerous world.

If there are any poems you love, let me know.

Be well, friends!

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