In my last article Poetry Can Change the World, I make an argument about how vital poetry still is, even in our mad-pace world. Or, lately, just our ‘mad’ world, am I right?
Maybe it’s my lingering ADHD, maybe it’s my fractured, multitasking brain, but the reason I love poetry so much is, frankly, for its brevity.
Poetry takes emotion and compresses it, crushes it down into this cold, hard nugget of truth that can pierce our apathy and lets the light of emotion flood through. Then it turns that truth sideways, and I just love how it does all that in a fraction of the time it would take to read an article about the same issue. Poetry is efficient that way. And I love efficiency.
Great poetry isn’t just a short-cut to learning about the human condition; great poetry is transcendent. It makes you feel something, a jolt, a shock to the system, the espresso of the literary world. I’m juggling two toddlers (haven’t dropped one yet), two day jobs I love, plus this beast called a ‘yen to write’ so basically, if it isn’t an espresso, mama ain’t got time for that.
Here are the two expressos I’m reading this fall – fair warning – it is by women, for women – so of course behooves every one of any gender and in between to read.
The Mother of Written Poetry
Inanna – Lady of Largest Heart by Enheduanna translation by Betty De Shong Meador. If you read my first column, you will have seen where I first stumbled upon Enheduanna. I’ve had time to dig into her ancient poetry, and I am enthralled.
But who is this poet? I haven’t been this excited over history since, alright, honestly, never. Why? Because, pause for drum beats here, Enheduanna is the mother of written poetry. The literal mother of all written poetry. And I bet two KN95 masks and a lifetime subscription to Amazon Prime you’ve never even heard of her.
To give us some perspective, she wrote over 4500 lines, seventeen hundred years before Sappho. Eleven hundred years before Homer.
Girls, she was writing slam-dunk poetry before most of the world could even read it. Her subject matter is femininity and the sacred, creative powers of the feminine. She was the daughter of a king and the Sumerian High Priestess of Inanna’s temple in ancient Mesopotamia. Her job was to unite the different cultures under one to make life easier for her dad. What a good daughter!
Here are a few lines she wrote about her love and devotion to the goddess Inanna.
Lady of blazing dominion
Clad in dread
Riding on fire-red power
Holding a pure lance
Terror folds her robes
She bolts out in battle
Plants a standing shield on the ground
Great Lady Inanna
The raw imagery, the aggression of her descriptions seem almost shocking to us now. As a woman, I have never been encouraged to ‘bolt into battle.’ No, sir, not once. I have been encouraged to smile more, talk less. (Thank you Hamilton)
She goes on to say that ‘fury overturns her heart,’ another touch-button issue in our own culture, especially right now. ‘Angry woman,’ nasty woman,’ these are all things we’ve heard dismissively from the highest office in the country. Talk about timely. Enheduanna penned (inked?) these words over four thousand years ago. But, progress, right?
My Literary Crush
Because I am a word nerd to the core and a bibliophile, I am often reading more than one book at once. Lucky for you! The second poetry book I am reading was just released by G.P Putnam’s Sons (an imprint of Penguin Random House) authored by Nikita Gill.
“The Girl and the Goddess – Stories, and Poems of Divine Wisdom” reminds us that there are women whose courageous stories we have probably never heard of in the western world. And she does it using the Snapchat crispness of poetry. I have a few authors I don’t even read the blurb anymore. I just buy the book because they’ve proven anything they write is magic – and Nikita Gill is one of those authors.
In ‘Mama,’ Nikita touches on similar themes of mama being a ‘goddess without her powers…’, finally ending her lessons to her daughter that ‘Girl is not a dirty word. Girl is power.’ She talks about the stories her mother would read to her of Jhansi ki Rani, of the Goddess Durga, of Draupadi’s origins.
There is a beautiful poem on page 37, ‘Tonight’s Tale from Nani,’ that the Goddess Aranyani guided her grandfather’s hands as he planted saplings year after year.
Nikita, too, brings me from my narrow spot on the earth to strange new places. If you can’t travel, you can read this book and explore lands and cultures that will charm and discomfit you. Oh, and she’s going to make you cry. The poem on page 40 about ‘How to leave Paradise’ will have you hugging your nana and blubbering about never flaking out on a visit to her again.
If you’re like me and you’ve only got time for the espresso of the literary world – poetry – these two books will send you well on your way to (brief) ecstasy.
My Question to You
But tell me what you’re reading – has it enraptured you? Enraged you? Made you cry, made you make a positive life change, sent you stumbling down to your mama’s house asking why? Tell me! You must tell me now.
Angela is a freelance writer and coach who wants to motivate and encourage beginner writers to put their thoughts to paper (or computer!) When we all listen to the voice that tells us to create, we are better humans no matter how many people those words reach.
She is a staunch advocate for writers and literacy/learning and also teaches a love of creative gardening to pre-k kids in her physical community.