by Susan DeFreitas, Associate Editor, Indigo
At seventeen, what I knew about poetry could have been summed up in a few words: poetry, an archaic art form, distant cousin to the novel. Luckily, I had the good fortune to attend a boarding school for the arts that year where all new students in Creative Writing were required to study both poetry and fiction.
Here I was introduced to some distinctly non-archaic poetry. Our textbook—it sits dog-eared and yellowed on my bookshelf to this day—was the fifth edition of Houghton Mifflin’s Contemporary American Poetry, and within its pages I discovered voices like Mary Oliver’s, fairly singing the words, “…the long tapers / of cattails / are bursting and floating away over / the blue shoulders // of the ponds, / and every pond, / no matter what its / name is, is // nameless now.”
I loved the Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “[Constantly risking absurdity],” and of course Allen Ginsberg’s bombastic masterpiece, “Howl,” but also the quiet wisdom of poets like Lucille Clifton, Marvin Bell, and Adrienne Rich, sharing deep truths of family and gender, love and loss, memory and mortality, speaking in the most potent, charged, and intimate language I had ever heard.
April is National Poetry Month, and sadly, we ring it in this year poorer for the loss of Adrienne Rich, a poet and essayist who, upon winning the National Book Award for Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971–1972, accepted it with fellow nominees Audre Lorde and Alice Walker on behalf of all women. As news of her death circulated online just a few weeks ago, I was struck by how many people had been touched by her work and what it had meant to them, whether as poets, prose writers, activists, artists, mothers, daughters, or simply human beings. I was reminded of the way poetry, as an art form, can sometimes stay with us long after the plot of the latest novel we’ve read has rolled off like so much fog.
I was also reminded, as both a writer and editor of fiction, of something I’ve discovered over the years: that writing and reading poetry makes us better writers, period. The sound of the language, the necessary concision, the art of creating clear, vivid images, the element of surprise—all are deeply relevant to all writers, regardless of genre, and poetry is a place we can return to, again and again, to forge and refresh the attendant skills.
So, in honor of National Poetry Month as well as of the late Adrienne Rich, Indigo Editing is extending an invitation to all writers to read and write poetry, and to share it, in person and online. Rich said, “A wild patience has taken me this far…” If we tend to that most potent, charged, and intimate of language arts, it will take us farther still.
Susan DeFreitas is Indigo Editing’s dedicated poetry editor. Her creative work has been featured in Third Wednesday, Southwestern American Literature, The Bear Deluxe, and Sin Fronteras. Follow her blog on the intersection of science and art.