Friday, April 1, 2011

Poetry Will Save Your Life

It is National Poetry Month, and I can’t think of a better way to begin than a PABLO NERUDA poem.


To whoever is not listening to the sea
this Friday morning, to whoever is cooped up
In house or office, factory or woman
Or street or mine or harsh prison cell:
To him I come, and without speaking or looking,
I arrive and open the door of his prison,
And a vibration starts up, vague and insistent,
A great fragment of thunder sets in motion
The rumble of the planet sets in foam,
The raucous rivers of the ocean flood,
The star vibrates swiftly in its course,
And the sea is beating, dying and continuing.

So, drawn on by my destiny
I ceaselessly must listen to and keep
The sea’s lamenting in my awareness,
I must feel the crash of the hard water
And gather it up in a perpetual cup
So that, wherever those in prison may be,
Wherever they suffer the autumn’s castigation,
I may be there with an errant wave.
I may move, passing through windows,
And hearing me, eyes will glance upward
Saying, “How can I reach the sea?”
And I shall broadcast, saying nothing,
The story echoes of the wave,
A breaking up of foam and of quicksand,
A rustling of salt withdrawing,
The great cry of sea-birds on the coast.

So through me, freedom and the sea
Will make their answer to the shattered heart.

From Neruda: Selected Poems (1970), translated by Alistair Reid

Poetry exercise: Take an old failed poem, cut it into pieces, word by word, and rearrange the words in a new order. Eliminate words that don’t belong. Cutting the excess baggage may help you find the heart of the poem. Or it may end up being another failed poem.

Happy Writing.

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