What is a poem? When I was in college I had an entire textbook dedicated to answering that question. Honestly, I still can't answer it. Not reliably. My answer changes with the weather . . . or the tides.
But ultimately, one of the reasons poetry is relevant in every age is because it is a curated voice. We are respectful of the form, careful with the genre. We want to use it to say stuff, but after we have placed our guts neatly onto the page we always ask each other timidly, "Did I write a good poem?" Which means that we are curating the way we shape the invisible. We want to speak the underlying Truth of Things.
Here Andrea Gibson has given voice to a girl bullied on the playground. This voice is graceful and strong, not the voice of a victim. The poet reads her poem in the clip below and the sound gives shape to courage. The video is of 13 year old dancer, Nataly Santiago, who embodies the poem. The words, sound and movement speak the underlying Truth of Things. From the outside it might look like we are in opposition on the playground, but actually, we are two persons. Write back soon.
Here is the transcript from the clip:
A LETTER TO THE PLAYGROUND BULLY, FROM ANDREA, AGE 8 ½
maybe there are cartwheels in your mouth
maybe your words will grow up to be gymnasts
maybe you have been kicking people with them by accident
I know some people get a whole lot of rocking in the rocking chair
and the ones who don't sometimes get rocks in their voice boxes,
and their voice boxes become slingshots.
maybe you think my heart looks like a baby squirrel.
but guess what? you absolutely missed when you told the class I have head lice
because guess what? I one hundred percent absolutely do not have head lice
and even if I do
it is a fact that head lice prefer clean heads over dirty ones
so I am clean as a whistle on a tea pot.
my mother says it is totally fine if I blow off steam
as long as i speak in an octave my kindness can still reach.
my kindness knows mermaids never ever miss their legs in the water
cause there are better ways to move through an ocean than kicking.
so guess what,
if I ever have my own team
I am picking everyone first
even the worst kid
and the kid with the stutter like a skipping record
cause I know all of us are scratched,
even if you can't hear it when we speak.
my mother says most people have heartbeats
that are knocking on doors that will never ever open,
and I know my heart is a broken freezer chest
that's why I can't keep anything frozen.
so no, I am not always crying.
I am just thawing outside of the lines.
and even if I am always crying
it is a fact
that salt is the only reason
everything floats so good in the dead sea.
and just cause no one ever passes notes to me
doesn't mean I am not super duper.
in fact, my super duper might be a buoy or a paper boat
the next time your nose is stuck up the river
'cause it is a fact
that our hearts stop for a mili-second every time we sneeze
and some people's houses have too much dust.
so maybe sometime if somebody would sit beside me on the bus
and I could say,
guess what, it is a fact that manatees have vocal chords
but do not have ears.
just like Beethoven made music
even when he could no longer hear.
and I know every belt that has hit someone's back
is still a belt that was built to hold something up.
and it is fact that Egyptians slept on pillows made of stone
but it's not hard for me to dream
that maybe one day you'll write me back
like the day I wrote the lightening bug to say,
I smashed my mason jar and I threw away the lid.
I didn't want to take a chance that I'd grow up to be a war.
I want to be a belly dance or an accordion or a pogo stick
or the fingerprints the mason left
in the mortar between the bricks
to prove that he was here,
that he built a roof over someone's head
to keep the storm from their faith,
my mother says that's why we all were born.
and I think she's right.
so write back soon.
~Andrea Gibson, 2010