We Need More Poets

Writer Don DeLillo once wrote that reading poetry makes us conscious of breathing. I can’t imagine a better way to put it.

The first time I fell in love, really fell in love, it was not with a girl or a woman. It was with a smattering of words here and there on a page. A printed page.

It presaged what love would be like.

It said love is a jigsaw sunset and you are the piece that holds the sun.

It said the best gesture of my brain is less than the flutter of your eyelids which whisper we are made for each other.

It took my breath away and then gave it back, deeper and more meaningful. I wanted to take in as much of it as I could.

While other kids were dreaming about throwing or catching the winning touchdown pass or chasing after the boy who threw or caught the winning touchdown pass, I discovered trunkless legs of stone in a faraway desert, wandered the stately pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan and pondered fears of what would happen if I ceased to be. My eyes widened and the narrows of obviousness rapidly became too confining.

I never idolized Luke Skywalker or Dr. J. I wanted to be Poe. I wanted to be Keats or Shelley or Yeats. I wanted to speak to people in a way that made them conscious of breathing.

Today air intake is just an involuntary reflex. Consciousness of it is something we attempt to force on our kids in school or college, but it doesn’t stick. And perhaps it was always so.

It’s been over two hundred years since Wordsworth noted that devoting our lives to getting and spending lays waste to our spirits. And we’re still mostly just getting and spending.

There’s not a business department in the land that will tell you that breathing is more important than getting and spending. Especially someone else’s breathing.

Society pays no praise or wages for the sullen art I loved because it taught me to love and breathe lovingly. And I know I have become a boring anachronism.

But I feel compelled to resist. I fear the reduction of our culture to raps and tweets and texts. The ironic truth about I-Touches, I-Pads and I-Phones is that more people are communicating, but less is being said. The gadgets truncate our thought processes and abridge cognition. They comprise a strain of expedience that might be useful in an immediate tense, but will likely be detrimental in the longer sense.

This is no time for intellectual slang. Look around.

The ceremony of innocence is being drowned. The best lack conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.

The mob may be incited or mollified by a text or tweet, but it will not be moved in a meaningful direction. That requires elucidation and crafted cogence.

Shelley may have overshot the mark when he said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, but even if it isn’t true, it should be.

The world is so much with us that we fail to grasp the importance of the moment we live in and exist oblivious to the repercussions.

We need to be more conscious of our breathing.

We must become more mindful of our interconnectedness with everything and everyone around us. There’s no hope for us as a single party, cause, country, religion, ethnicity or species. Our only hope lies in collective conscience and broad concert.

Instead of getting and spending we need to do more watching and listening and thinking.

Instead of ceding conviction to brainwashed miscreants and manipulative scoundrels, we need to speak out and rise up, inspired and informed, and therefore indomitable.

We don’t need more pundits or politicians or profiteers. We don’t need unlimited texts or more folks following us on Twitter.

We need more eloquence and profundity.

We need more poets.

Fort Worth native E. R. Bills is the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional & Nefarious and Tell-Tale Texas: Investigations in Infamous History. Read other articles by E.R..