The reason I read poetry is that it helps me think thoughts more vividly.
If you’ve read a poem (a ‘good’ poem, I mean) you may have noticed that it’s sparser than prose of equivalent meaning. So, in my understanding, poems offer vision and truth in shorthand, which is to say, they offer the reader the seeds to something. Just the seeds. The reader may do with these pretty much whatever she chooses: she may eat them, fondle them, stick them on pretty chart-paper, or she may grow them. So a poem’s ‘use’ is discovered uniquely by each person who cares to dwell on it.
I once attended a poetry reading session in which we discussed verse by Emily Dickinson. The person chairing the session interspersed the readings with bits of biographical information. So we learnt that Emily was a loner, that she never married or even had lovers. When we came across her love poems, therefore, an air of scepticism scoffed its way through the classroom, and a girl asked, “What does she know of love? Don’t you think that a poem must come from real, lived experience?” The girl was pretty; she had been in love (the mutually recognised variety) and she had written her poetry based on her relationships. No one quite knew how to answer her question; we shrugged and continued to the next poem.
A year later, I think I have an answer to her question. It may sound full-of-it, so be prepared. Maybe brace your chest or raise an eyebrow, in advance. But I think that the living of an experience is only partly the result of it ‘happening’ to you in ‘first person’. The poignancy of love, for instance, may be felt by its absence in a person’s life. It may even be felt by reflecting on the experience of someone else. And oddly enough, one can sometimes experience something simply by writing about it.
What I want to stress, I suppose, is the importance of reflecting on things. We reflect so that we may begin to see things in their details, and we need to see them this way if we want to live vividly. All art I think, and poetry, and maybe even science, is annexed to a greater appreciation of living. They usher in the sensibility of wonder and pause and excitement. And maybe it is this essential quality of reflection that makes the ark for efforts in science and literature today.