We greatly underestimate the things that are not lucrative and it shows in the way we talk about it.
We only call people dancers if they make money doing it. We only call people singers if they make money doing it. But if you dance, aren’t you a dancer? If you paint, are you not a painter? If you write, aren’t you a writer?
I think we shouldn’t define art in such a specific way and stop controlling it altogether. I think we should think of art and poetry like we should think of magic. For example, if someone says “It was magic,” you might assume they mean it was supernatural. But the word magic can mean a lot of different things.
It can mean that an exquisite deceiver is pulling things out of a hat. It can also mean the work of tiny people with wings. Magic can also mean looking at the stars and feeling incredibly alive. Magic is also what happens when children come to cry out to the world through a bloody adventure called birth. Magic is also the phenomenon of time which passes by us like water around a fish, and we swim without thinking.
Magic is music that takes you back to a time you thought you’d lost forever, but when you hear the notes you can see the raindrop-streaked window in front of you and your little-fingered hand tracing the water paths, despite the distance, despite the weather, despite the wrinkled skin that now surrounds your smile.
The word “magic” can be used to describe all of these things. And the word “poetry” can be used in the same way. Emily Dickinson once said: “If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me up I know it’s poetry. If I physically feel like the top of my head is ripped off, I know it’s poetry. It’s the only way I know it. Is there another possibility? “
Poetry is not just verse, diction and rhyme. Poetry is not a figurative language and an alliteration. Indeed, poetry is not objective at all. There isn’t a very methodical or consistent way to describe it. Poetry is simply an art made of words. Something beautiful made with the tongue. An exceptional graduation speech? Poetry. A stunning line in a movie? Poetry. A line from a cookbook that makes you take a break from your pasta sauce by stirring and laughing for a minute? Poetry.
Just as there is no formula for bringing magic out of life, there is no formula for bringing poetry out of writing. A book can be wildly successful and not be poetry. A book can have a clear narrative arc and a compelling storyline, without being poetry. But a book can also have a jagged story arc, maybe no plot, and be beautiful poetry.
The difference between art and non-art is not accuracy, format, or punctuation. It’s the life you put into it. To make a work of art is to take a piece of yourself that was previously hidden in a part of your soul and bring it out into the world and make it come alive using brushes or paint or sound or stone or words. Making a work of art is giving a part of yourself to the world, letting a part of yourself wander outside your body. Like an organ that made legs grow. Like a child made of thoughts.
And so artists, like parents, have to be very courageous and very strong. And I hope they’ve done something strong enough, brave enough, and beautiful enough to stand among the giants that he has to walk by. And anyone who can do that, anyone who’s brave enough to give a part of themselves, is a real artist in my book.
When we ask children what they want to be when they grow up, we expect them to say only one thing. But no one is just one thing. This is what makes life interesting, this is what gives magic to life. Not all life is magic, it is true, just as all writing is not poetry. But poetry is what makes literature worth reading, and magic is what makes life worth reading.
Lucia Marsiglio is a junior at Delaware Academy in Delhi. Readers can email him at [email protected]