For a long time, I thought poetry was for people who cultivated smug aloofness; people full of pretty, expensive ideas and leisurely self-importance. Fortunately, the more of it I read, the more I discover that poetry can serve as an offering of connectedness, rooted in the substance of everyday life. For proof, check out Transylvanian-American poet Andrei Codrescu’s So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems 1968-2012 — or, if you live in New York, St. Paul, or any number of poetically minded cities, simply go outside with your eyes open.
Codrescu is a prolific and wide-ranging character — founder of the journal Exquisite Corpse, regular contributor to NPR's All Things Considered, subject of the documentary Road Scholar — and his new collection bursts with the noise and clutter of our modern lives. Consider these lines from "the zen post office":
until noon the café was a sea
of reports and poems being filed
by the waves made by legs being crossed
and recrossed and restless sandaled feet
and newspapers self-importantly creased...
Or his meditation on Facebook in "keep old hat in secret closet":
oh my people of the 21st century
nobody cares about us
because why should anyone care for someone without secrets?
The way Codrescu handles these everyday scenes allows me to slow down and take notice of things I would otherwise toss aside. Oil slick on a puddle reflecting the night sky, a symphony of rush-hour traffic, lines at the grocery store ... all of this I can use as spontaneously and as often as I check my phone. And it's nice to know that two cities dear to my heart have caught on: St. Paul's Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk and the MTA's Poetry in Motion exist under the guiding principle that we could all use a few more encouragements toward wonderment in our day-to-day.
When I catch some Whitman on the 6 train, the small anxieties and irritations of cramped transport quiet down; instead of impatiently awaiting my ride's end, the language of the poetry inspires me to think differently, to think further than my immediate annoyance. The very act of pausing and paying attention in that way
makes both my outside surroundings and the sense of myself within those
surroundings more vivid.
As much as I might resist the prospect of disrupting my precious internal monologue (as I am stubbornly interior and am very busy most of the time having really important thoughts), coming across a poem on the train or at my feet — or even driving past a road sign that reads "ART IS SEX" in Amarillo, Texas — is an interruption that aids in my active delight in the world, a delight of which I often need reminding.