WHAT POETRY SHOULD DO
Real poetry gives true names to things.
It’s an act creation and an act of order,
Like man giving names to the animals on the first day.
There are a million things to be named
Things we only half know, until we hear their names.
When the poet finds the true name for something
That name distinguishes that something from everything else
And makes it identifiable forevermore.
Things like this:
The expression on the face of the store clerk,
How he smiled like the grill of a Chrysler
And yet looked afraid.
The feel of the knife handle or guitar neck in the hand
How it felt when she said “No”
How it felt when she said “Yes.”
Poetry gives names to things even
that we have not yet known
And may only have glimpsed in one bright moment
On the farthest edge of conciousness
So we don’t understand the poem on first reading
But the structure still enchants us
We know there is something there
Then in three or four days
We awaken at night and know what the poet meant
And we are satisfied.
Or seven years later, driving home from work
We remember a line or thought
And some sliver of reality, of experience, of life
Is now ours to be sure of
To grasp and to keep.