I remember the moment that I “got” poetry. I had always loved it as a child and liked making puzzles with words. I liked the feeling of wisdom I attributed to poems and I wanted that for myself. I remember when I was older, I was in college reading a poem and really coming under its spell and realizing it was visceral. It afforded the reader, and I imagine the poet also, the opportunity to stop and look at very small details with such scrutiny that it becomes completely other.
The poem that did it for me was Seamus Heaney’s “Digging,” in which the speaker is looking at a pen. In the beginning, he says, “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests; as snug as a gun.” Then as he considers the pen and his environment, he goes backward in time and remembers his father and grandfather were working the land. By the end of the poem, having really stepped back into that history and that sense of place, he looks at the pen and says, “Between my finger and my thumb / The squat pen rests. / I'll dig with it.” Suddenly the pen becomes a completely different implement but also suggests a different kind of urgency and a different kind of vocation. That just really blew my mind. I wanted to be able to look at the things that were at hand and let them teach me something about not just themselves but myself and the world that I was in.