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Is there a place for poetry?

April, what T.S. Eliot called “the cruelest month,” is National Poetry Month. And, in our modern world of clamor and clutter, I have to wonder: is there a place for poetry?

I’d like to think the answer is yes. I have dozens of poetry books on my shelves that have not been opened in years. But it does not matter. I can go about my days, and the verses still sit there, poised inside those pages, ready to spring goosebumps to my skin if I only take time to remember, and read.

Today, April 26, is “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” first created by the City of New York in 2002 and expanded to a national movement in 2009. We are encouraged to print out or write down a beloved poem, written by us or someone else, and carry it around all day to share with others. The one I have chosen is a poem by one of my favorite poets, Wallace Stevens (1879-1955).

Here’s why I love Stevens: the guy was a lawyer, toiling away most of his life in the executive offices of the Hartford insurance company. And yet on his way to and from work each day, and maybe on his coffee breaks, he wrote what he called “the supreme fiction”– poetry. And not just sentimental little verses for friends and family, but ambitious, architectural webs of words. He published his first collection, Harmonium (1923), at the age of forty-four. It sold only 100 copies. But Stevens kept writing, and he went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1955, just a few months before he died. And he left us with the poem shown below–one of my all-time favorites.

 The Well Dressed Man With A Beard

After the final no there comes a yes
And on that yes the future world depends.
No was the night. Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slid over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket’s horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self that must sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be
Enough. Ah! douce campagna of that thing!
Ah! douce campagna, honey in the heart,
Green in the body, out of a petty phrase,
Out of a thing believed, a thing affirmed:
The form on the pillow humming while one sleeps,
The aureole above the humming house…
It can never be satisfied, the mind, never.

By: Wallace Stevens

First published in: Parts of a World (1942), in Collected Poetry and Prose of Wallace Stevens (Library of America ed.), p. 224.