Last night in downtown Charleston, South Carolina Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth celebrated the launch of her new book of poetry, Despite Gravity. Despite the wet weather, many came to catch up with one another, drink coffee and listen to moving words and music at the East Bay Meeting House. I was one of them, and to be honest, I didn't know what I was in for.
I suppose I should preface by saying I've never been to a poetry reading event. I imagined it might be something akin to a book reading/talk from a novelist or non-fiction writer...something with which I'm very familiar. But it was not. To the sounds of a strumming guitar, Marjory read aloud her poems and some poems of others in honor of United Nations Day. Poems about Vietnamese refugees, brave men, tyrants.
To put it bluntly, what I strive for in an entire 300 page novel, Marjory Wentworth was able to do in about 300 words.
It's rare for me to cry while reading a novel. It does happen, but not very often and only after I've digested pages upon pages of character and circumstance. Not so with Marjory. While listening to a poem about a love encounter with a political prisoner, I felt the first stirrings of emotion. I stared at a place in the wall above the coffee counter and pushed the tears down. But when Marjory read prose, a "found" poem as she called it, about a mother in a strawberry field in Gaza watching her two small sons get blown to pieces, I simply lost it. Tears flowed uncontrollably. If I were watching the footage on TV I would have spared myself and changed the channel. But I could not change the channel. Marjory held her audience captive and relayed the utter humanity that is common to us all--no matter who we are--and the horrors and brutal realities of the world in which we live.
I would have struggled nine months to birth a novel that might have the same effect of just one of Marjory's poems last night. So today I realize the pure power and importance of poetry. It can reach across cultural lines. It can cross emotional barriers. And I admire the bravery and skill of those who write it. Marjory Wentworth didn't just stand behind a microphone and read some words to us last night. Her poems were arrows, penetrating hearts, and our toasty coffee shop nestled in downtown Charleston was transformed into one that might have been found in any nation on earth.