4 Poems on the Purpose of Poetry
Della Hicks-Wilson is a British poet and writer of Caribbean descent, best known for her short viral poems and spoken word videos which have garnered over a million likes and shares to date. Della sat down with us for National Poetry Month to share four poems on the purpose of poetry from her bestselling debut collection Small Cures which was originally self-published in 2020 and will be re-released by Andrews McMeel Publishing in June 2021.
The original title of this poem was “strange ablutions.” When I wrote this piece, I was thinking about how we have these clear expectations and routines when it comes to the cleansing of our outer bodies, but not so much with our internal spaces. And how do we achieve that? At the time, I was contemplating forgiveness as a method. Poetry, I believe, is another.
Fittingly, in several poems in my collection, Small Cures, I liken words and water with the use of metaphorical language. In the final part, entitled “Recovery,” I write: “our bodies / like land / crave water / and understanding.” Poetry can be such a wonderful and powerful cleanser because it lends itself to catharsis for both the writer and the reader. But more than just being an art form that merely purges you of emotions, it has this uncanny way of seemingly understanding and mirroring them, even when they feel the most messy and unclear, and in turn, making something far neater, cleaner from it.
When I was a teenager, I started keeping a small notebook reserved exclusively for handwriting short quotes from books and plays to films and conversations that in one way or another moved me. The idea was to create something I could refer to for inspiration, empowerment, understanding. The irony that I have, many years later, gone on to write a soothing book-length ode to self-love made entirely out of short, interconnected verses is not lost on me.
When it feels like you are filled to the brim with all the wrong words and negative self-talk, poetry is such a rich source to draw from for comforting reminders and establishing new truths that can become an integral part of the vocabulary you use to talk about yourself and reframe your story. One of my absolute favorite quotes is from one of my all-time favorite poetic works, Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf: “i found god in myself and i loved her, i loved her fiercely.”
I love spoken word poetry. I think it possesses an intangible quality that sets it apart from page poetry. There is something incredibly powerful, freeing, transcendent about hearing or saying poems aloud; hearing or saying your truth aloud. For me, listening to spoken word poetry can become almost meditative. With Small Cures, I wanted to create a book-length poem that read like a spoken word poem and called to be orated and repeated by the reader. To this end, I edited the book aloud, usually to hip-hop jazz tracks on SoundCloud.
In her recent essay “Notes on Grief,” originally published in the New Yorker, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes that “grief is a cruel kind of education,” and that, in the throes of it, you quickly learn that grief is about language, the failure of language, and the grasping for language. I would concur and add that grief is also a cruel kind of inspiration and that poetry is one of grief’s finer attempts at language which we can use when we have none, when our voice seems to disappear.
This piece was inspired by a short fragment by Emily Dickinson I discovered while writing my final year dissertation on the poet:
To see the Summer Sky
Is Poetry, though never in a Book it lie –
True Poems flee –
Our experience of the world is poetry; we are walking, talking, breathing poems. If nothing else, poetry reminds us there is magic in the mundane, extraordinary in the everyday.