How exciting can a simple poetic phrase be?
During the past few months, I’ve rested my blog in the pursuit of an answer to that question, spending my time studying and experimenting with the craft of poetry, reading here and writing there. The process did not leave me a lot of time to muse and write about the works of others. Still, something caught my attention in my workbook, and I had to explore the idea on Our Literary Lives.
In the section that spoke of where poets can get their inspiration, one of the places was, of course, other poets. As I read on to the examples, a Shakespearian line arrested my attention: “The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,/Burnt on the water.” In the midst of reading simple prose, a how-to passage, suddenly my multiple senses were engaged upon a single scene. It took my breath away. And I thought, “That’s what poetry should be.” Unfortunately or no, I also thought, “That’s what life should be.”
Recently, I hit an annoying snag when I became addicted to personality profiles (or as I now call them, the pseudo-science version of horoscopes). You know, they divide humanity up by a series of behaviors, sometimes they give you a title or a list of letters, then they declare that you act a certain a way because of that. Consistently, I tested as a personality type that is overly-idealistic, dismissing the real world, real people, and their quite real imperfections. Not to say this isn’t true of me (“Madame Bovary, c’est moi”), yet I couldn’t see the huge problem with this, if it was. Why couldn’t life be extraordinary?
After all, this is what we expect of poetry, of art, of most things we choose to spend our time on. Yet, why is it such a problem to expect our lives to be so? The problem is, so many people click their tongues on idealism, especially in love. They are quick to claim that we shouldn’t expect people or situations to be 100% perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with that. Yet, the same argument could be used as an excuse for underachievement, a lowering of expectations and performances. By making the extraordinary impossible, they discountenance any attempt at excellence.
This is not the poetry of the greats. It shouldn’t be our lives.
We’re not saying that iambic pentameter should spew out of everyone’s mouths all the time and that everyone should be good, noble, and kind with each other twenty-four hours of the day. Not only is that impossible, it would also be irritating. Most of us live quite normal lives. We go to work or school every day. We come home, watch TV, clean the house, clean our cars, go shopping for groceries, and battle with the significant others in our lives. It’s a very prosaic existence, with a faint interspersing of drama every now and then. No, the point is not to dismiss those aspects of living. In fact, much poetry, literature, even visual art and movies are the greater for portraying those avenues of our lives. It’s their familiarity that makes them shine to us.
No, it is the magic, the sense of specialness, the idealism that is brought to the ordinary. It’s the innate sense of the artist, the writer, the actor that the world around us is both everyday and a miracle at the same time! It’s the conclusion that everything else should be to: relationships, work, exercise…I could go on. With writing, especially, it is all about swimming in the ordinary and making out of it the extraordinary. How many poems have we read about seemingly mundane things: onions, birds, fish, factory work, baseball games, et cetera? Even the most realistic writing has some elements of style, flavor, tone….effort, work.
For that reason, there is no excuse for making the ordinary a substandard. We should go about our lives not settling for the mediocre, the unsatisfactory, by calling it reality. We can look for creativity, spontaneity in everyday occurrences. We can be better, we can do better, we can act better. We can go about our lives on our burnished thrones, like kings and queens, just living out our ordinary days, but loving every minute of it because we’ve worked so hard at it, just as a writer works so hard on his craft, that it becomes magic.