I always delight in asking people what they think of poetry, often finding the responses in polarized spectrums. “I adore poetry, it’s everything that is right with the world!,” some may say. “Poetry’s weird,” others may proclaim. I tend to fall into the latter category, often baffled by the underlying meanings and symbols thrown into each line a poet creates. I find poems hard to read, hard to write, and difficult to relate to. But this weekend, the writer in me begged to become more acquainted with the practice of poetry and the wonderful people who create it.
Walt Whitman was an American poet, essay writer, and journalist, creating his most famous work, Leaves of Grass in the late nineteenth century. He was born and raised on Long Island, and there is a museum in Huntington devoted to his childhood home. Since my inner-writer was screaming for poetry exposure, I decided to make the hour-long trip to learn about this great man who wrote such great things.
Encased in flowers with a miles-long trail in the backyard, it’s no wonder Walt Whitman had the serenity and insight to create such observational poems. I walked around, listening to the guide explain the age and history within the walls at the museum, impressed by the well-preserved rooms and foundation. I walked out back, making sure my boots were laced tight and prepared for the hike. With a few people in front of me and few behind, I walked by myself on the beautiful trail, the trees still bare while stubborn flowers were determined to bloom. The air smelled crisp and aside from the occasional breeze, things were quiet.
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never//forgotten,//I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,//Nature without check with original energy.
-Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
I had nothing to do but think from that point on. Think about the way things looked, the way things smelled and felt and sounded. That’s what poetry is, I thought. It’s about your senses, it’s about being aware of everything around you, things that are bigger than you. It’s about being existential, even if you don’t know how to be. It’s about being so compelled by your surroundings and realizations that you can think of no better way to express what you’ve felt than to write it down, however it comes out.
We’re all poets, for every time we tell someone we love them, we’re making poetry. Every time we stretch out and yawn in the early morning, we’re making poetry. Every time we taste something delicious and moan in pure indulgence, we’re making poetry! Allowing the things around us to seep in, taking a moment to realize where we are and what we are doing is the purpose of poetry. I invite you all to follow Whitman’s lead and go outside, live a full life, and take a look around.