Answering An Age-Old Question About Poetry

*This essay first appeared in the Santa Barbara Independent

One question that I’m often asked is Why Poetry or What Does Poetry Contribute? Last week’s typewriter poetry event helped me offer an answer. Simply put poetry is the best friend you didn’t know you needed or have had all your life. Poetry allows you to look at the same road, flower, person or thing with new eyes in a unique way that’s all your own. Poetry offers a celebration of the everyday world, sometimes comfort for situations that seem difficult, such as a bittersweet final send off for a loved one or ways to heal from an injustice.

Thursday’s typewriter poetry presented five poets typing up free poems with music provided by the local duo, The Gruntled, Mark Zolezzi and Jesse Felix. Poets included two poets laureate, myself and Emma Trelles, as well as Steve Beisner, Diana Raab, and Simon Keiffer of the Typewriter Lending Library. We wrote love poems, tribute pomes, haikus, and several poems for grandchildren. I had the pleasure of writing a poem for recently born granddaughter. The young grandma was so proud about her daughter’s daughter that I have no doubt the folklore of the child’s first poem will be a story the girl will hear for the rest of her youthful life.

All of the poets agreed that the event exuded a therapeutic aspect. In fact, when I proposed the idea to the downtown organization in charge of First Thursday, I almost titled the event: Poetry Therapy. I changed the titled because I didn’t want to scare anyone away or have them feel as if they needed to lie on a therapist’s couch. Yet, many people received a nurturing, poetic hug that helped reveal what was, at the moment, most important to them.

Sharing space with a fellow human and offering them a free typed poem was a magical experience. I’m still in search of a good title for this event as there was much demand for a repeat of the evening.

A true connection happens when you have the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation about the birth of a poem. The poets found the spontaneous demand for a poem, an intellectual exercise. Also, I can say I’ve been spoiled by the composing on a computer. The keys are butter to the touch and while they don’t make the special clack of a typewriter, a keyboard is much easier on the wrists and mistakes are easy to fix. However, there’s something thrilling in knowing that you need to think ahead of your fingers when you press down on a typewriter.

Although I brought a reem of scratch paper, due to time constraints, I didn’t write a rough draft by hand. In my everyday writing life, I write a draft by hand and then go to computer to rewrite the handwritten draft and this process is repeated after I print out what I have. At the same time, the time constraints meant there was more of a freedom to the writing than I would allow myself had I more time, a typewriter conundrum and mystery. With typewritten poems on demand, you must accept your mistakes and typos and offer yourself a bit of kindness.

While it’s not every day you can find a poet on State Street to write you a poem, the marvelous thing is you can perform a similar act of kindness by typing yourself a letter or writing down your feelings or observations on pen and paper. If you think you need a bit more guidance, I have a free workshop coming up at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. You’ll have a chance to respond to the Inside/Outside exhibit. No previous writing experience is needed, but you need to sign up as space is limited.

Upcoming Poetry Events:

Thursday September, 21 Writing in the Galleries 5:30-7:00 pm, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1130 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, free.

Bring a notebook and a favorite pen or pencil.