April is National Poetry Month.
I have dabbled in poetry hardly at all since high school. Why is it that all children are poets by nature? In school, prosodic lines flow out like seeds from a dandelion. Kids who cannot begin to fashion a paragraph can express themselves in reams of vivid verse. It is not all good poetry, for sure, but it is all personal and genuine. Where does that go?
Last fall, my son, a Miller Arts Scholar at University of Virginia, was involved in the installation of a Moth Cinema on the Arts Grounds. The cinema, designed by famed eco-artist Natalie Jeremijenko, consists of a screen stretched across a garden filled with moth-friendly plants and bathed in gentle backlight. The moths cavort in their playground as their shadows perform their intricate puppet plays. I attended the groundbreaking for the installation and the artist described the cinema as a continuous love story. Strangely compelling experimental music was being played at the site and I could imagine the balletic flitting of the elegant insects, spurred by whatever mysterious urges pass through their sightless and soundless existence – to fly, to mate, to lay, to die – a perfect circle of narrative.
The artist asked for student and faculty members of the Arts Council, the sponsoring organization, to contribute a thought or a story about moths. The stories ranged from reminiscence to romance, all touched by a lyrical quality that anticipated the installation in its full effect. She did not ask for audience contribution, but my mind searched for some expression of the ethereal novelty that the as yet unborn moths would provide. It insisted on a poem. The accompanying piece emerged fully formed, ready to flick its gossamer wings into flight:
Maybe poetry is part of a child’s nature because all the world is new to them. Like fledgling moths, they flit through their world, sampling the untasted nectar, feeling the vibrations of the undreamed music that surrounds them. Poetry is the most honest reflection of their developing emotions. As adults, when we have heard it all and done it all, we close ourselves in the cocoon of prose – solid, comfortable, risk-free prose – and burst out into the light only on those wonderful rare occasions when our hearts chance on the novel, the wondrous, the ethereal. Then it is our dance of delight which can be reflected in shadows on the screen.