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The Compass of The Word: Exploring Truth and Wonder in Poetry

I.  The Truth is Like Poetry

    In The Big Short, Michael Lewis shares a quote he heard in a Washington D. C. bar: “the truth is like poetry and most people [expletive] hate poetry.”  The quote is circular in the nature of its meditation—Why do most people hate the truth?  Why do most people hate poetry?  The quote is also like a poem in the way that it makes the reader stop and think, “That’s true!” We recognize the truth even when we do not entirely know what “truth” we are acknowledging.   At this point, you are probably agreeing with the idea that you “hate poetry,” (and the expletive is optional depending on the level of your hate). 

    As a lover of poetry (and the truth), I love the quote.  It makes me think of another quote from Norman McClean’s A River Runs Through It: “My father was very sure about certain matters pertaining to the universe. To him all good things—trout as well as eternal salvation—come by grace and grace comes by art and art does not come easy.”  For me poetry is among the “good things” in this world that “come by grace” “and art” and do “not come easy.”  The technological age seems to have made poetry even more difficult and inaccessible.  For example, in one of his Hillsdale Dialogues with Dr. Larry Arnn, Hugh Hewitt discusses Homer’s poem The Iliad.  Hewitt tells Arnn that in our society “we are used to quick things” and “reading The Iliad” quickly “denies ourselves pleasures.”  Dr. Arnn agrees with Hewitt and responds, “if you read Homer with attention, you will never forget it and it will be your friend till the day you die.”  Dr. Arnn also adds that reading poetry takes “practice . . .  it’s very absorbing, it should be quiet” and you have to “keep at it for awhile . . . it’s very good.”  

    One of the central inhibitors to poetry in the technological age is the so-called “smartphone.”  Far from the focused and studied absorption described by Dr. Arnn, the smartphone lends itself to the quick fix—we seem to be ceaselessly scrolling up and down, swiping left and right, and clicking onto our hyperlinks.  And unlike the novel, which continues to thrive, poetry often lacks the narrative thrust of a story to pull the reader along.  Still, sometimes I think that poetry should be experiencing a renaissance in the smartphone era—a sonnet, for example, is a quick read and it fits quite nicely onto one my iPhone screen.  The problem is that reading poetry often requires mental exercise that our sometimes couch-potatoed minds do not want to do.  Poetry also requires a sense of wonder.  As Tom Waits once stated in an interview with Paste magazine, “we have a deficit of wonder.  I think it’s because of....