Poetry, the Egret
By Steven Withrow
Poetry is pronounced dead, and reborn, so often that a phoenix metaphor springs too easily to mind. Poetry’s fiery demise and ashy reincarnation might be the oldest news in literature; Sumerian scribes must have jived about it in cuneiform.
A more complex metaphor, and the one I prefer, is to see poetry not as a rising firebird, but as a wading waterbird.
Take the egret, for example. Its French name, aigrette, means both “silver heron” and “brush.” During breeding season, long filamentous feathers waterfall down the egret’s buff back, and these decorative plumes, prized by hunters and hatmakers a century ago, nearly brought about the egret’s extinction.
But the egret kept on, standing long-legged in liminal space—that transition point between land and water, past and present, life and death—stirring wavelets with its wings and harpooning breakfast with its bill.
Poets, too, live on this threshold: colonial or solitary, motionless or migratory as it suits us. This has always been our way.
In creating a grassroots, nonprofit, global organization devoted to advancing poetry for children and teens, I am not concerned with staving off poetry’s passing or reinventing poetry’s purpose for a new generation. Rather, I am celebrating poetry as a living thing—as many living things at once—and I’m sharing it with everyone I know or hope to meet.
To advocate for poetry, in my view, is to live with an intense love of written and spoken language and a willingness to tell and show others (especially the youngest) how you feel and why.
Each day new poets are born.
There’s no phoenix flash or gunpowder delivery.
Just the raised voices of hatchlings, their musical, crook-necked cries.