Poet Nikki Finney has described poetry as “where the beautifully said thing meets the really difficult to say thing.” Finney grew up in an era “when difficult things were being said and shouted and screamed”; she remembers thinking “those things are very, very important to hear, but there must be another way to say them so that they will truly be heard.”
She added, “that’s what art is. Art is about being provocative; art is also about beauty and if you leave the latter out, the former doesn’t matter.”
In my professional life I am perhaps Finney’s antithesis: my legal work shouts; it can be withering and arch. (I have saved a letter from an out-of-state attorney complimenting my “lacerating prose.”) Were it anthropomorphized, it would be an angry, be-tentacled invasive species, blanketing and suffocating its prey.
But in this other life of mine, words are something else.
I do not pretend to be a poet, but I love poetry, in prose and in music. I love to hear and to read a beautifully-turned, arresting description or phrase.
I love words.
I do not share the philosophy of a Jose Saramago character—who, after all, populated one of many more-and-less magnificent worlds Saramago carefully constructed with words alone: “it’s all words and only words, and beyond the words there’s nothing. . .Yes, a word, which, like all the others, can only be explained by more words, but since the words we use to explain things, successfully or not, will, in turn, have to be explained, our conversation will lead nowhere, the mistaken and the true will alternate, like some kind of curse, and we’ll never know what’s right and what’s wrong.”
Beyond the words and in words and their combinations, there is something: words can wound, just as silence can wound, but even misbegotten words, imbued with good will and feeling, can have healing powers.
Words need not be great poetry to be magical; they need not even be remotely original.
And some words are like golden dust because of purpose coupled with exquisite timing, a gift by the speaker of exactly what one needs to hear at a given time:
“I’ll be right there.”
“Do you need a Fairy God-sister?”
“It’s OK. We’ve got everything under control.”
“Jim would have been proud.”
“I love you.”