We do not read enough poetry. We know this, but we believe that poetry is about nourishment and feeding the brain and so we need to do more, be more, and at least once a year we do, and we are, and this is one of those weeks. We are starting with two startling collections by the Shaindel Beers and by startling it is not to say we are surprised at their ability to grab our brain and shake us. Even knowing Beers in the limited sense we do - Twitter, readings, talking here and there - her words are all about shaking and grabbing, fighting complacency and stupor. Our reaction is more about the remarkable nature of the work. The focus on violence, love and family, how they intertwine, and their pull and grasp on our lives, how they linger, and follow us from relationship to relationship. On being a woman, not just in this world, the literary, America, but all worlds, and the inherent challenges, and obstacles, that come with it. And on the need for bravery if we hope to have any impact on anything, which is particularly exemplified in one of the poems from A Brief History of Time titled "For Stephen Funk, in Prison for Protesting the Iraq War:"
"Stephen, from your story, I've Learned bravery.
I've resolved never again to be weak
when it comes to things that matter, the stuff
of life an death. If someday someone asks
you was it worth it? know you're not alone
anymore, because you've proven to me
and others that if asked, we can be brave,
that our weakness is not made of different stuff
than courage; it's just us, sure we're not alone."
To absorb these words, however, is to also recognize that Beers is performing a brand of advocacy with her work. A plea for understanding, and empathy, and the idea that stories can heal us, though if they fall short of that, at least show us the way there. This is overt in The Children's War with its opening focus on the "artwork done by and about child survivors of war," and nicely captured in the poem "The Gift (for my Golden Eagles:"
"And I know, Children, that this isn't much, but it's the gift,
the one gift, these stories, that can't be taken away."
Poetry is the gift. It feeds us. And nurtures our brains. It also reminds us that amongst the violence and the love and the family, there are stories, and that stories can change our lives, just as this work has changed ours, and can yours too.