Jack Hernandez wrote “A Journey with Poetry” in the Community Voices of the Bakersfield Californian. It was published on April 1, 2020 which coincided with the the first day of National Poetry Month. The essay is reprinted below.
“We are born and our journey begins. On this journey there are two travelers: our outer self and our inner self. Our outer public self, our body, we adorn with fabrics and colors, and with it we walk here and there, everywhere through life, first to school, then to work, love, family, retirement, and death.
“Of course this journey is not the same for all, but however it goes, whatever roads it travels, we make it with this outer self that occupies space and time, that we and others perceive as we do trees, flowers, the clouds, the moon, sun, rain, dawns and dusks, all that exists in nature’s seasons, comings and goings.
” Through our journey we take care of our outer self by feeding it, grooming it, exercising it, giving it shelter, and having it regularly checked medically. We want it to be strong, alert, and healthy as it shifts and moves, grows and diminishes, dodges and darts, laughs and weeps, wakes and sleeps until the final night.
“But what about our inner self? This self we call our soul, who we truly and deeply are? On our journey, this private, hidden self that only we can see grows from a seed to a tree with its branches of memories, knowledge, thoughts, desires, loves, regrets, aspirations, and visions. We receive from without to nourish within. All this to discover who we are and wish to be. To do this we experience the news of our world, the writings of scholars and thinkers, the stories of history and literature, the light, darkness and beauty of music and art.
“And poetry? April is National Poetry Month. “So what,” some would say. What is poetry and who needs it? A fair question since poetry is rarely read, or should I say, experienced. For reading and hearing poetry is an experience that helps us understand the pulse of life and ourselves, a form of revelation, of wisdom, and beauty.
“We are rational beings, who prize logic and critical thinking. Embrace carefully thought out theologies and philosophies. Treasure scientific knowledge about our world, our universe. Imbibe history of civilizations come and gone. Often we limit our soul’s growth to these rational ways of understanding. Through them we think about what makes a good life, what is truly moral, about others and how to have empathy for those whose lives differ from our own. Thus we widen our minds and thoughts so we can find truth and wisdom.
“How then does poetry fit in, grow our souls? A poet writes about experiencing life in a direct way that can be expressed only through imagery, sound, and metaphor. Yes, we can talk about, describe objectively, love, joy, pain, sorrow, depression and death, but poetry helps us be with them intimately. Talking about falling in love is not the experience of falling in love, talking about death is not the same as seeing someone close to us die, to feel our own mortality. I remember when my father’s memory was almost gone, and when I went to visit him he recognized me once and we hugged and cried. Now I increasingly hear of and see my retired Bakersfield College colleagues diminishing, failing, and dying. To experience this is not a matter of medical information; it is, rather, a soul-moment, one that only poetry can capture, as Jane Kenyon has in these lines from her poem In the Nursing Home:
She has stopped running wide loops,
stopped even the tight circles,
She drops her head to feed; grass
is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.
Such a vivid a vivid image of a once powerful, vibrant life now reduced to waiting for death. The poem makes us feel it, feel it deeply, personally. We all run in wide loops until, almost imperceptivity, they narrow and we are shocked and saddened to find ourselves slowed, limited, and finally stopped, dust unto dust.
“During this month, find a poet who speaks to you, one whose words take you into the beating heart of life, touch you with the breath and bones of living. Poetry is felt, not analyzed. A poem is not an argument; it is an experience, a revelation.”
Jack Hernandez is a retired director of the Norman Levan Center of the Humanities at Bakersfield College.