By: Victoria Smith
Recently, I’ve had the luxury of binging on the BBC series, “Middlemarch”, based on George Eliot’s classic novel. Thus, while April is National Poetry Month, I begin this month’s column with praise for the poetry of this literary masterpiece, brought to new life on film.
In the preface of my poetry collection, “Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul: An Immigrant’s Journey”, I expound on the value of poetry for everyday human life—which to me, in essence, is poetry’s power to distill the extraordinary from the ordinary, providing both inspiration and meaning to life. Middlemarch is precisely that story of otherwise ordinary people attempting the extraordinary in their everyday lives, although achieving in the end what appear merely to be mediocre results. To me, it is not the quality of the product of one’s striving that determines one’s success in life—but the quality of the very striving itself. This is perhaps why I literally bawled my eyes out when I heard the following line spoken by one of the story’s main characters, Dorothea: “I used to despise women for not shaping their lives more. I was so fond of doing as I liked. Two years ago, I had no notion of the way that trouble comes and ties our hands and makes us silent when we long to speak.” Honestly, has anyone been touched by a better distillation of the tragedy of the human condition—let alone, the condition of women?
Many of us begin our lives being proud idealists, judging how things ought to be, reveling in our Monday morning quarterbacking. And then life happens to us, and we begin to understand that things aren’t that simple, and neither are people especially. They are complex human beings who are not completely good or bad, and who, for the most part, try to do the best they can with what they have at the time they had it. It’s easy to have 20/20 hindsight, forgetting that in order to even reach the aftermath of the “behind” with all its potential wisdom, we had to cross the “before” period that the allowed us to gain any foresight at all. It’s in how we cross the bridge when we get there that interests me as a writer, not whether we reached the other side—in other words, my personal restatement of the saying, it’s not the destination but the journey that’s important.
This perspective helped me arrive at my own formulation for what a successful poem looks like, which hints at my formulation of what a successful life is, described no less in poetry through my poem, “Note to (Writer) Self:”. I humbly share that this poem’s maiden publication in the 2015 Summer Edition of Westward Quarterly elicited the following comment by poet and artist, Margaret Been: “When I read ‘Note to (Writer) Self:’, I actually responded bodily–with chills and goosebumps! That is — in my estimation — immortally great poetry…. Incredibly incredible!”
Therefore, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I am happy to republish herein my poem—
Note to (Writer) Self:
Give me no words that bend to fickle moment, nor imagery fawning to senses alone, shocking nerves for attention. Rather, give me truth distilled from slow reckoning of the wonder that lies beneath skin, carved in flesh and bone: riddle of air in lungs, liver’s absolutions, discord and harmonies of heart beating to rhythm of ordinary life, eyes privy to the extraordinary mystery of all things. Describe to me each slice of pain from the thousand paper cuts of the living—not blasting of brains triggered by bigoted mind nor addictions of spent spirit. Tell me the common story of blood that travels quietly in human veins, not clotted treachery of iron will, the coward’s tyranny by division— blighting all beauty to extinction. Show me not brilliance that blinds but steady glow of leading stars, then play to me the heavens’ opus in the basso of planets, treble of the moon.
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