Poetic storytelling is humanity’s oldest, most effective teaching tool. Imagine words as boxes, each one stuffed with multi–dimensional worlds of meaning. The words act as a kind of shorthand to relay bits of condensed information – facts. Poetry pries open these word boxes with sensual associations that encourage the human brain to accept and integrate information. Storytelling takes facts, makes them anthropomorphic and infuses them with spirit.
Good raconteurs root their metaphors in the syntax of their listener’s language and the context of their culture to establish empathy. Empathy is the bridge upon which Sophia, “the personification of wisdom; an amalgam of personal experience, acquired knowledge and Spirit,” travels across time and space from one person to another. Sophia doesn’t always need words to span isolation. She prefers, in fact, to transport herself along the more subtle paths of body language, instinct, intuition and eye contact. Nevertheless, as long as humankind persists in its delusion of separateness, narrative continues to be indispensable.
Poets are among Sophia’s greatest devotees. They long to be wise and to share their wisdom. Whatever their motivation – pain, surcease from sorrow, love, lust, injustice or joy – poets seek to acknowledge what drives them, to understand it and to transcend it. Having achieved this, however temporarily, they yearn to share their insight.
The poem is both crucible and distillation. It is a tightrope spun of words, flung across an abyss of ignorance by the good will of the poet. The poet, by definition, has experienced within himself the fusion which brings forth Sophia. Having experienced even a moment of wholeness, the poet knows herself blessed. From that moment his particular experience is set firmly in a matrix of commonality. Her poems become an antidote to the illusion of separateness.
Gossip, that much maligned form of communication, is a prevalent form of storytelling. Even Sappho stooped to tittle-tattle. Modern poetry continues the tradition, often using the language of the coffee klatch to reveal a painful truth. Unlike other forms of folk telling, gossip adapted to the Twentieth Century without missing a beat; moving easily from back fence to water cooler and humming along telephone wires almost as quickly as they could be strung. Today it hangs out among the clouds and speeds through ether along the internet.
People love gossip because it gives them a chance to star in their own stories and to praise, coddle, scold or pass judgment. No matter how dark the deed or bitter the anguish, some part of it can be presented to be laughed over, cried over and compared to other stories and adventures. Nothing is ever so bad or shameful that someone hasn’t a similar story to tell. The sharing of it weaves the teller’s pain into the larger frame of history and humanity. It draws him back into the warmth of belonging, to the place where we remember that all the tales are our own.
Poetry, like humankind, cannot separate or abstract itself from Nature. Nature dotes on metaphors in the form of chameleons and copycats. It is a rare poem into which She doesn’t intrude at least one green tendril. Like painters, poets are often moved to describe Earth’s moods and creatures. They know that circumstance is as changeable as the weather and so gather and harvest moments of beauty to comfort and console when things get rough. Realizing how quickly Earth’s kaleidoscope whirls through alternate seasons, the artist strives to retain those moments when time stops and spirit fuses into perfect harmony with the life around it. She makes a mandala of her poem or painting that becomes a chart for the soul; delineating the way, forward and back, to consciousness.
Poets tell their stories in many ways, from long epics which spin plots and create characters to the elusive haiku that encodes sentiment in natural metaphor. Each poem is an alchemical transmutation in which the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. A poet cannot help but grow and live more richly as he continues to compose.
To grow, to live more richly, is to love increasingly well. All poems are love poems. They say: “I see you so clearly that I love you. Allow me to love you.” They also say: “I long for you to see me clearly because then you will love me.”
Poets know that “perfect understanding casteth out fear” and that love is the absence of fear. Fear of rejection, fear of misunderstanding, fear of desolation – these things retard what Kierkegaard has called a “leap of faith.” To leap, the poet must love herself, trust in his own vision and wisdom, and believe that there are those with ears to hear.