The Poetic Life: Find Meaning in Everything, Anything

Poets tend to have a prodigious talent for producing vaguely philosophical conclusions from the smallest details. Think of the greatest haikus, those crisp images that subtly invoke feelings. Even from the blue jay or the rose bush or the gravy-textured sky, we can derive meaning. At first, this sounds a little crazy, though, doesn’t it?

Your friend comes late to dinner, fixing his hair, clearing his throat—this denotes frustration. When penned down, when life is transcribed into novels, we spend hours analyzing what the text means, what we can learn from what the characters do, from how the author describes the shape of the hills in the distance or the used condoms crumpled by simmering storm drains. During our real-life experiences, however, we rarely analyze actions in such a way.

Pay attention to not just what people do, but what it could mean about them. Don’t boast that you can read minds or understand human interactions, because you can’t—everyone is an amateur philosopher, an amateur theist, an amateur poet. No one can be master in such matters.

Especially if you mean to make art, in my case to write poetry, you must watch how people act, what people say. Try to create poetry that is true to the moment, to life. Sometimes, I will sit among a group of people writing down things they say. Strange things, sometimes profound things. We spend hours hypothesizing in lively debates, changing each others’ minds inexorably, only to forget our enlightenment minutes later, the time it takes for people to leave us.

Alone, however, we should continue to consider our actions and thoughts—why do we think this way? Why do we act this way? Whether you approach this psychologically or religiously or senselessly, it doesn’t much matter, because you perceive things others have never before. Of course learn as much as you can, read as many books as you can read, but remember that only you can decide what is true or untrue for you.

We all hold an immense power to determine truth for ourselves. The only way we avoid being overpowered by the ideas of others is to constantly pay attention—life is a 24-hour lecture. Take notes.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on October 18, 2012, in dreams, Humor, Manifesto, musings, Poems, Poetry, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. 100% right! I wish there would be more people watching and listening before they talk. And that everyone is an amateur philosopher, an amateur theist, an amateur human (?) should be teached in school! There are too many People thinking that they understood the meaning of whatever, bragging around with their wisdom.

  1. Pingback: The Poetic Life: Say Yes « Word Salad

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