Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, poet, and essayist Barbara Kingsolver has said “It’s surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.” Can not the same be said of poetry? Those “things” which linger in our hearts and minds are those we revisit through all art, music, and creative writing. Those things which sit in our souls, often unnamed, are those we give form and structure to with words – with images and metaphors that tug at us, begging for attention, for connection and often for reframing in acceptable – maybe even beautiful ways. Memory not only connects our pasts to our presents, it often reshapes our pasts – helping us even to see our own narratives, and those of others, with more compassion and grace.
In Thornton Wilder’s iconic American play, Our Town, the main character – after her death – implores the narrator, “But one can go back – I know it – I feel it.” Poetry can be that answer to all who have wished to go back. With its sharp concise imagery we can visit the loves, the gems, even the eloquent losses of our histories. With its dreamy abstractions we can mold and redefine – soften the hurts. We can blur the sorrow – sharpen the exquisite. We can define a narrative to carry with us through all of our years. In the words of Paul Simon:
Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph –
Preserve your memories –
they’re all that’s left you.