Poetry in Motion
The Poetry Society of NH is seeking a new poet laureate for the state. While it’s possible you don’t know the name of the current one, this might be the most important nonpolitical office we have.
On his cross-country Rolling Thunder Revue back in 1975 and 1976, Bob Dylan took to calling all his fellow musicians and crew by the most affectionate and respectful term he knew. He called them all “poets,” so they began to refer to one another that way, as in, “Hey, we need a few poets down here to hoist up these stage trusses.”
We think of a poet as one who uses words to plumb the depth of things, to reveal the power in our common moments and to expose the true nature of what’s hidden in plain sight. Dylan is famously the “poet of my generation,” so perhaps he was being gracious. Or perhaps he knew that poets must roll up their sleeves to whip words into soufflés or bolt them together like trusses, just like any working stiff.
One of Dylan’s early influences was another musician from his home state of Minnesota, the pop singer Bobby Vee, who had a 1960 hit with the song “Poetry in Motion.” In it, he extols the virtues of his girlfriend:
Poetry in Motion, walking by my side, her lovely locomotion, keeps my eyes open wide.
Poetry in Motion, see her gentle sway, a wave out on the ocean, could never move that way.
Dylan performed in Bobby Vee’s band in his early career, so perhaps these lyrics were an influence. Maybe, as he watched his roadies and sound tech crew at work, he was struck by the beauty within the chaos, the rhythm of ordinary life all coming together in a symphony of activity — a work of art.
While putting together our Best of NH list and our story on the town of New Boston and its famous Fourth of July parade, I realized that Dylan was on to something.
When a restaurant or a bartender or a craftsman is picked as the best, it’s likely they have simply found the poetry in what they do. People nearby begin to hear the rhyme and sense the beat, and even start to move along with it until it’s apparent that something good is going on there. Perhaps each of the items or companies chosen as Best of NH is simply an example of poetry in motion.
Every small town’s life has its own poetry, visible or audible, mostly to those who live there. A civic event like the New Boston Fourth of July parade (or an Old Home Day or annual pageant) is merely a public reading of the verses that townies already know so well.
In evolutionary terms, language is the superpower of the human race. We aren’t as strong or fast as other animals, but we are able to describe, plan, critique and define. We can write down lists of things to do or enemies to defeat — and then make notes as we go. This makes language the ultimate toy, tool and weapon. And language, for better or worse, makes us what we are as human beings, as countries, as families.
Dylan knew that what we do in those roles is also a language, but it’s language spoken through shared deeds, celebrations and ideals.
Poets are here to remind us of all this, so we don’t ever take the power of words for granted. Our next poet laureate, whomever she or he should be, will have a tough job in this age of Twitter feeds and Facebook rants.
By the way, our current poet laureate is Alice B. Fogel of Walpole, and you should take time to read her fierce and luminous words.
And if you know someone up to the task of benevolently presiding over a state jam-packed with poets, the Poetry Society is accepting nominations for the job until July 20 at poetrysocietyofnewhampshire.org.