Poetry is an art with a unique language. To me it means a way of expressing yourself in a way that you want, without having any rules, while writing your deepest thoughts in a love language of your own.
Name: Cailey Rizzo Hometown: Buffalo, NY Current City: Paris Occupation: Au Pair / Freelance Journalist Age: 21
What does poetry mean to you?
Poetry is the highest art form. Correct me if I’m wrong—I really don’t think I am—but there’s something magical about elevating words (things we use every day; the most mundane, utilitarian tools; the roots of speech) to music. Putting a thought to rhythm is the most enviable skill. And, as a journalist, I sit in the corner and glower at poets for their ability to elevate my tools into art.
Poetry holds a god-like status for me. I, a mere mortal, could never handle the mythic power of a poet; I burp at the dinner table and end sentences with prepositions. But it wasn’t always like this. I learned to be afraid of poetry, to revere it as something greater than religion, and to leave it to the professionals.
The irony is that I became a published poet at five years old. The poem, called “My Furby,” appeared in a school district newsletter with a selection of other young artists’ works. I don’t remember much about the poem, but I’m pretty sure it was an intense, postmodern, lyrical examination of my relationship with my favorite toy, the eponymous My Furby. (Just disregard the fact that at the time, my mother had not yet bought me a Furby, so this poem was just degenerate self-gratification—a common theme in poetry, I would later learn.)
Fast-forward eight years to a middle school English class and the month of April. Thanks to a great teacher, I discovered Poe and Shakespeare and Yeats (it would take a few more years before I discovered the great female poets) and the joy of a rainy afternoon spent bent over a book of poetry. For years, poetry remained this hidden thing. I was passionate about scribbling my own secret rhymes into locked journals and sweating the lyrical prowess of Walt Whitman. I turned 20 and had a Bell Jar-style breakdown, interning at a Bell Jar-style magazine in a skyscraper in a Bell Jar-style Manhattan. Poetry turned into an escape. I started to examine the adult lives of adult people in tall, shiny buildings; and the crazy lives of crazy kids smoking cigarettes, leaning against walls in the outer boroughs; and how it all ends—this self-destructive behavior pattern known as “being a New Yorker.”
“We’re all killing ourselves slowly because suicide is boring,” I scrawled on the page after one particularly rowdy college party. I smiled at my clever line and sent the half-poem off to poetry reviews under a pseudonym. It was never published. But that’s not the point.
The point is that I love poetry, even if I’m no good at it. I love falling and fawning over the open pages of a poetry anthology; I love the catharsis of rhyming and rhythmitizing my thoughts. The point is that it’s possible to love something as vast as poetry without putting it on a pedestal, and without debasing yourself. I’m slowly learning that you don’t need to be a master poet to appreciate poetry, or even to write it. Publication is not the final validation. The feeling you derive from words in stanzas is much more potent. And there’s something awfully poetic about all that, isn’t there?
The Rainy Day
The day is cold, and dark, and dreary; It rains, and the wind is never weary; The vine still clings to the mouldering wall, But at every gust the dead leaves fall, And the day is dark and dreary. My life is cold, and dark, and dreary: It rains, and the wind is never weary; My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past, But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast, And the days are dark and dreary. Be still, sad heart! and cease repining; Behind the clouds is the sun still shining; Thy fate is the common fate of all, Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.
I must be upfront: this is not my favorite poem. I think it’s cheesy, heavy-handed, and obtuse. But, it was the first poem I ever loved. Longfellow’s “Rainy Day” spoke to my angst-ridden 13-year-old soul with a passion that I hadn’t yet realized I could get from art. This was the first poem I ever memorized, the one I recited to myself each day on the walk to and from the mailbox after school. “Thy fate is the common fate of all,” I would mutter to my teenage hormones, “into each life, some rain must fall.”
And to this day, reciting Longfellow’s poem—no matter how much the imagery and rhyme scheme may make my skin itch—is one of the only things that can lull me after an intense sob session. My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past, but because of this poem, I am confident that somewhere there is the sun, still shining.
Runners up (because it’s so hard to play favorites):
I am a bit of a neophyte when it comes to poetry; I’ve certainly read a fair bit, and I’ve often hung out with poets. I’ve even been in poetry workshops, but I’ve always been a prosaic dude at heart. Maybe that’s why the poems I tend to like are prose-y like Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel” or just weird exercises like Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s. In my current job though, I find myself reading poetry everyday – much of which is canon (Keats, Wordsworth, etc). This has happened at other times in my life (I went on a long Whitman tear) – and whenever I read poetry everyday I come to appreciate it so much more as it offers challenges and concerns I just don’t get from prose. It’s the rare paragraph, maybe Melville, that I can read ten times and find something new each time, but even what’s ultimately a pretty goofy poem, Keats’s “When I have Fears That I May Cease to Be,” for example, continually rewards careful reading. Some other poems I have enjoyed lately are Philip Larkin’s “The Building” and Anna Akhmatova’s “You Will Hear Thunder.” I’m also a sucker for reading odd fiction about poets (below), most Roberto Bolaño wrote.