Today, nearly 230 years later, plenty of people are packing poets in their pockets. It’s national “Poem In Your Pocket” Day.
First celebrated in 2003, “Poem In Your Pocket” Day is sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. The basic premise, as you might guess, is for poetry lovers to carry their favorite poem in their pocket for the day. As opportunity presents itself, they can then share those poems with coworkers, friends, family members, and classmates.
“I felt my life with both my hands
To see if it was there—
I held my spirit to the Glass,
To prove it possibler—“
The lines come from Emily Dickinson’s poem “#351.” Dickinson is not, I admit, my favorite poet, although I do love the fact that she made up the word “possibler.” It makes me think that all things are not only possible, they’re more than possible—they’re possibler.
That reminds me of another line, this one from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”—one of my favorite lines of poetry ever: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” In other words, there are things possible in this world that we’ve not even imagined. That’s one of the coolest ideas ever because it suggests the world is full of wonder.
I like a world filled with wonder.
And to me, that’s one of the great things about “Poem In Your Pocket” Day. A poem is a little window to the world, and a little window to the heart, and both places are wondrous indeed.
Poems, too, are wondrous things. For instance, consider the cryptic sense of possibility suggested by William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow”:
so much depends
the red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
The real majesty and mystery of the poem lies in its line breaks and layout. Believe it or not, the whole experience and meaning of the poem changes if you just string it all together:
“So much depends on the red wheel barrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.”
That line hardly seems like poetry, does it? Yet Williams, through careful arrangement of the words, gets us to see them—and the experience he describes—in a whole new way.
As a rule, though, people undervalue poetry. Poetry requires us to pay attention to the world in a quieter, softer, more reflective way that we typically have time for in today’s hustle-bustle. Even poetry that’s brash and ferocious requires this of us.
That’s because, as poet Charles Wright has said in his poem “Sundown Blues”: “There are some things that can’t be conveyed—description, for instance….” Yet a poem nonetheless tries to do just that, to capture a snapshot of experience and convey it in words, and with a rhythm, that surprise, evoke, and reveal the universal by exploring the intimacy of the specific.
A poem may have other agendas, too: to inspire, to anger, to challenge, to comfort, to woo, to amuse, to insult, to excite, to dazzle, to watch, to share, to cry out a barbaric “YAWP” over the rooftops of the world and then to howl.
That’s an amazing list of verbs—of things poems can DO. They can do much more, too.
And you can carry all that activity, all that power, in your pocket.
I carry those lines from Dickinson in my own pocket courtesy of the local library, which has been celebrating “Poet In Your Pocket” Day all week long by passing out business cards with lines of verse on them. That is how I came to be friends with Miss Emily this week, though I’ve read her poems many times before. I decided to keep her lines, rather than choose a poem on my own, because she’s the one who brought me to the dance in the first place.
On my own, I might’ve chosen a Wright poem or something by Shakespeare. I might’ve picked T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men,” which is my favorite poem but also bleak and sad, as is Poe’s beautiful, tragic “Annabel Lee.”
I also like “Birches” by Robert Frost. One could do worse than be a swinger of birches, Frost reminds us, escaping the cares of the world for a while and then coming back, alighting carefully on the ground. “Earth’s the right place for love,” he says. “I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.”
A poet in your pocket, as Adams suggested, is like a great friend who helps you rediscover wonder over and over.
In honor of that friendship—and in honor of the friendship I have with you, dear reader—I celebrate “Poet In Your Pocket” Day with you by sharing a poem written by the thirteenth century poet Rumi called “Fierce Courtesy”:
The connection to the Friend
is secret and very fragile.
The image of that friendship
is in how you love, the grace
and delicacy, the subtle talking
together, in full prostration,
outside of time. When you’re
there, remember the fierce
courtesy of the one with you.