“A light and a laser”: 8 quotes to celebrate National Poetry Day
I was never really interested in poetry as a child or young teen. I found it boring and obscure. I remember very clearly the book that changed that: Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, a story told through a collection of free-verse poems.
Out of the Dust is the coming-of-age story of a young girl whose mother dies and father becomes emotionally withdrawn. I was utterly struck by poetry’s precise ability to reify emotions and hone-in on moments beyond what your typical prose passage is capable of. Around the same time that I read Out of the Dust, I started writing poetry myself.
This year, poetry has been a balm for the chaos, confusion, grief and loneliness of the pandemic and lockdown. From Mary Oliver’s meditations on small moments to David Whyte’s reminder that “everything is waiting for you”, poetry has repeatedly fished me out of the depths of myself. I know I’m by far not the only person to have had that experience.
Today is National Poetry Day in the UK, where half of our team is based. To celebrate, we’ve compiled eight quotes that remind us that, as the revolutionary Audre Lorde so eloquently said, “poetry is not a luxury”:
“Poetry is what you do when you have nobody to pour your heart out to.” – Nihal Farid
“The revolutionary poet loves people, rivers, other creatures, stones, trees, inseparably from art, is not ashamed of any of these loves.” – Adrienne Rich
“A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language that is powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.” – Jeanette Winterson
‘Poetry is a product of perspective. It is a way of looking at the world, at yourself, at who or what you love, or hate, or are afraid of.” – Logan February
“I believe the world is beautiful / and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” – Roque Dalton
“Poetry is easier to learn than prose. Once you have learned it you can use it as a light and a laser. It shows up your true situation and it helps you cut through it.” – Jeanette Winterson
“Poetry is many things. Poetry is life, it is water, it is earth, it is sound, it is music, it is language that allows us to stay alive. Poetry is ancient, it is new, it is old, it is current. Poetry is a baby’s smile when he or she is smiling at you. Poetry is a burp from a child who is well fed. Poetry is a kiss from your lover. Poetry is a handshake from comrades. Poetry is a hug. But most of all, poetry is a language that says, ‘stay alive, do not die on me, do not move away from life.’ Because poetry is life, and it keeps people alive.” – Sonia Sanchez
“For me, the poem’s chief value is as a reminder to stay inside the moment. It asks us not to let our minds rerun things that have already happened, not to trouble our heads fruitlessly about things that haven’t happened yet. Inhabit the now, the poem urges – just see the beauty around you that you don’t normally see.” – David Mitchell
Aimee-Claire Smith lives in Cape Town, where she is studying English Literature and working on her first novel. She likes coffee and cats. You can follow her on twitter or Instagram: @aiimeeclaiire