words

So I impulse-purchased a tattoo appointment today, which I didn’t even know was a thing. So that’s kind of exciting news.

There’s a wonderful quote by Anne Lamott from Bird by Bird, which goes:

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

It’s a statement that I now know almost by heart, that I find myself coming back to time and time again, almost unable to believe that a paragraph can capture the truth about my entire life so elegantly and simply.

And yet I found in my own time of particular need – two weeks ago, when everything seemed to crash all at once – that not books, but poetry was the thing that soothed me most. On one awful Wednesday morning I made a conscious choice to not look at any screens until I did something entirely distracting. So I got out of bed, made a cup of coffee, and headed out onto the balcony with my cigarettes and my long-suffering, well-loved copies of The Collected Works of both T. S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens. And I opened the well-creased pages of the former to The Waste Land.

As I read, I felt that I was not so much reading the poem as traversing it, like I was exploring a childhood home or some other place from a distant past – something so familiar yet still so full of surprises. If I zeroed in on some particular detail that I had never noticed before, the whole piece took on a different meaning. I climbed the walls of the poem, turned random corners, peered through railings. I enjoyed its mere existence as well as its profound beauty.

Then I read Preludes, and here every word, every beat, every syllable was so utterly familiar that it was like wrapping myself in a favorite blanket. Comforting. Warm. Soothing.

I switched to Stevens and read first Sad Strains of a Gay Waltz and then a few random pieces I hadn’t looked at before. I read them out loud. I got lost in their rhythm.

There’s something about poetry that makes it irresistible to me. The compact confines of the form both necessitate very precise wording and tight turns of phrase, and yet allow the freedom to be so wonderfully playful with sounds and meanings and metaphors. And the magnitude of potential ideas and images hidden within those particularly-placed words makes it the perfect distraction.

All that to say I’ll probably be getting a line from a poem tattooed on me soon. Yay! Don’t tell my mother.

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About Varia

Traveler, writer.
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