History or Poetry?

Its not as hard as you think


Do you hate poetry?

I hear that a lot. People see something written in a vertical form, strange lines, sometimes rhyming. For some, the eye just rolls away as soon as they see the form.

“I don’t understand it,” they say.

I think in part this is because in English class we were expected to learn all these poetic forms – then told form doesn’t matter. And we are expected to look for “meaning” in every line, every word. We are taught to think there are messages in poetry beyond the norm, more lofty, lyrical and meaningful than in other forms of writing.

But even those who “hate” poetry the most will love music and every time a singer raises his or her voice, it is poetry that comes out as lyrics.

Recently, on The Tonight Show, I heard Taylor Swift say the thing she is most proud of in her career is her lyrics. So, not being a Taylor Swift groupie, I had to look up what she was talking about. I found an elegance of poetry, straightforward and passionate about the course of one young woman’s life.

“Sorry, I can’t see facts through all of my fury,” – Taylor Swift, “Happiness”

“Back then we didn’t know/We were built to fall apart/We broke the status quo/Then we broke each other’s hearts” – Taylor Swift, “The Very First Night”

“You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter/You are the best thing that’s ever been mine” – Taylor Swift, “Mine”

But what is Taylor writing about? She is documenting her life, writing what she knows. She is writing history. And why not? The earliest known history was passed down as poetry, a method to remember what was important about a family genealogy, the rules of law, a great battle. Many of the poems of the ancient world include historical accounts and instructions for everyday activities.

“Poetry appears among the earliest records of most literate cultures, with poetic fragments found on early monoliths, runestones and stelae.” – Wikipedia, “History of poetry”

So, when a poetry book, “Atomic Paradise” by Jules Nyquist, won the best history book award in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards, I shouldn’t have been so surprised. Of course, I had to order it and see how those things came together. “Atomic Paradise” explores the nuclear history and the dawn of the atomic age. Nyquist has taken her own experience, and learning about living in New Mexico, and explored the existence of the state that is in the heart of the nuclear military/industrial complex.

“Atomic Paradise” is a journey from the Manhattan Project, the Trinity Test to Hiroshima, the spread of nuclear weapons through the world to the fallout of the nuclear industry in the state. She takes the reader through this journey in a straightforward, easy to read, understandable form – poetry. Thus, poetry becomes a clarifying element rather than a confusing one.

“You build the apocalypse inside your garage/bolt it together with plastic and duct tape, you’re dreaming/It’s only a hobby, to see if it’s possible to be God.” – Jules Nyquest from the poem “Build the Apocalypse Inside Your Garage,” from the book “Atomic Paradise.”

So, when you see Moving Mountains in this issue of Desert Exposure and see that it looks like a poem, go ahead and read it anyway. For here is another poem-as-history which becomes poem-as-future-possible. Joel Chinkes has brought Deming to life as its past and as the possible site of a mining project that could take down part of the Florida Mountains come alive and an issue which has been hard to wrap our minds around, becomes understandable and clear – because – poetry.