So Distant Like This: April is Poetry Month!

It is April 1st and Poetry Month is upon us. Art seems more important than ever as people are sharing free music concerts and homebrewed poetry videos around the world. During these unprecedented times, I think of a little poem by the poet Hayden Carruth that goes like this:

Hey Basho, you there!
I’m Carruth. Isn’t it great,
so distant like this

This is a playful little haiku perfect for social isolation as it reminds us of the immense power of poetry, and how it connects us over distances, and even centuries.

“Poetry is inside talking to inside,” said the great prolific poet Donald Hall. It may be the best words in the best order as Coleridge wrote too, but it most certainly is “inside talking to inside”, or put it this way: one person’s consciousness encountering another person’s consciousness.

To illustrate what I’m talking about, I offer this poem by Jason Shindar who died over a decade ago. It’s called “Eternity” and comes from his book Stupid Hope:

Eternity

A poem written three thousand years ago

about a man who walks among horses
grazing on a hill under the small stars

comes to life on a page in a book

and the woman reading the poem,
in the silence between the words,

in her kitchen, filled with a gold, metallic light

finds the experience of living in that moment
so clearly described as to make her feel finally known

by someone—and every time the poem is read,

no matter her situation or her age,
this is more or less what happens.

I read this poem about a woman encountering a poem from three thousand years ago, how suddenly a little window appears between the poet and herself, and I smile. I’m struck that this is exactly what is happening between the poet Shindar and myself.

In this time of self-isolation and pandemic, I see poetry as a great connecting force that reminds us words matter. Living matters. It reminds us of the ties that bind us together, as humans are made not of dollar signs and profit margins, but our shared collective experiences.

The current pandemic shall pass, but the hard lessons of these uncomfortable, turbulent times are there to be learned. We need poetry, as we need all art, in order to educate our emotions and to remind us that, ultimately, we are all just people worried about our family and our friends and the state of the world.

Stephen Dobyns once said, “poetry is a window that hangs between two people who otherwise live in darkened rooms.” This idea resonates with me this April as we move into Poetry Month. Please take care of your families, but also maybe pull down a well-loved book off the shelf, spend some time with a favourite poet, and you too can think, “Isn’t it great, so distant like this?”

The official April 2020 National Poetry Month poster features the artwork of Samantha Aikman, winner of this year’s National Poetry Month Poster Contest for Students.

Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of six collections of poems with Deepfake Serenade from Nightwood Editions forthcoming in Fall 2021. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review, GRIFFEL, American Poetry Journal, Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.

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