Poetry has been an important part of my personal and professional life for a very, very long time. If I am known for anything (and known means to perhaps a handful of people!), it is my work in poetic inquiry/poetry as qualitative methods. Colleagues have long scratched their heads and wondered about my interests, and the relationship between poetry and social work.
Without delving too much into this complex conversation, suffice to say that poetry provides us a powerful tool for understanding the human condition, and a means for healing. Overly simplistic, but if you wish for a bit more, check out this article. Poetry Matters: A Case for Poetry in Social Work Practice.
But aside from such academic interests, when a collection of poetry speaks to me, it speaks to me with a depth and power like nothing else.
Mark Doty's powerful book, Atlantis is just one such collection. Specifically, the title poem, explores the author's navigating the end of his lover's life. Doty uses the vehicle of their relationships to their dogs as a means of exploring the complexity of love and obligation, the nature of human resilience, and the resilience of the human spirit.
When a poem speaks to me, it is often one or several lines that resonates with me, that practicality rings through my body, not so much as a sound, but through a variety of senses.
And while there are multiple moments in the poem that speak to me, one line has taken on almost a metaphorical quality for me, as a metaphor for my own way of navigating the world. Consider the third line below.
Soul without speech,
sheer, tireless faith,
he is that-which-goes-forward,
And so through this poem, I have found my way of understanding my own sense of duty, my own movements through personal struggles and tragedies that transcend my own affective responses.
How does Doty write about dogs without any hint of sentimentality? How does he construct "dog" as a metaphor and dog as being into evocative lyrics and narratives so seamlessly? He writes about the best of us being situated with and through dogs, and about the "sacred" nature of the human/animal bond. Or at least, that is what it brings up for me.
I don't really know how he pulls off such masterful work time and time again, but my trying to understand what he does is one of the reason why this book makes the list of those that speak to my soul.