Cheryl A. Rice reading at the UAG Gallery on Lark Street

Poetry, By and For the People?

Recently I completed a collection of poems that, unusually for me, required a great deal of research. My poems are generally inspired by a phrase or quip that begins a chain of thoughts, one after another, and I am pushed to write it all down. This new collection, however, took years of reading, writing, searching for a common thread to pull them together as a cohesive work. One of the few things I might be grateful to the Pandemic for is the sense of urgency it’s created in me, and the drive to finally complete this collection.

I am sending proposal letters to publishers now. I absolutely expect 100% declines to come back, and that is fine. I simply wanted to give this work the very best chance at the widest audience possible. I am fully prepared to self-publish when the time comes, and even have a talented book designer lined up for the job. In many ways, I enjoy self-publishing more than working with a publisher, lucky as I’ve been with those I’ve engaged.

What I’ve come to realize, however, and become saddened by is that these poems will primarily be read by other poets, if anyone. The days of poetry holding an honored place in ceremony and occasion are long gone in America. And I don’t say this to mean my poetry is worthy of any great praise. I am simply mourning the loss of what once a common language we shared, writings beyond the literal. Poems are words with emotions and visions inextricably intertwined, and it’s possible that the same social climate that has allowed the ignorant side of our Pioneer roots to burst forth has helped bury Poetry in the back of the Arts closet.

Yes, we had a poet read at the latest Inauguration. Yes her poem was praised for its vision and positivity. But it was more a panacea for a weary electorate than Art that could connect one on one, a poem that perpetuated idealistic rhetoric and not real experience. And having a poet read at a national event is so unusual it becomes part of the hype, not as routine an act as the Anthem or the Oath itself.

I am sad sometimes to participate in an art that so many feel excluded from. Though their experiences are limited, so many think they won’t understand what they hear, that the language will be complicated, or that they aren’t worthy of this (perceived as) exclusive club. All these fears, perhaps embedded by some equally fearful instructor, are almost entirely without merit. There are poems for everyone. The best poems, to me, connect me with other humans. We have so much in common, and so rarely dwell on those aspects. Instead, we choose to inflate the differences. We are all unique in so many similar ways, as it turns out. Our sameness knows many shades.

Poetry chose me. In my early years, I also drew, sang, and wrote stories as well as poems. Poetry is the art that’s made the entire trip with me. It’s a life I wouldn’t trade for anything. I just wish I could comfortably and confidently share it with more people. I sell books to people who love me and are interested in what I’m writing these days. Many of those people are poets. Sometimes I feel we huddle together for safety as much as companionship.

Is there a way to widen the circle? I am contemplating that question. Change the delivery method? Subjects? Petition for weekly addresses by our U.S. Poet Laureate? Maybe these things would have some effect, after a time. I wasn’t raised with a library at my fingertips, yet I love poems for the vehicles they are. They’ve taken me far and wide. How can I bring others along for this amazing journey?