Last week, the patriarchs of our company traveled to Kent, Ohio, to witness the evolution of something they helped to birth: The Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University. On Friday, the university celebrated the rededication of the center, which was moving into a new “old” home on the university’s Lefton Esplanade. It just so happens that Thursday, yesterday, was National Poetry Day, so this seems particularly apropos.
The center is a labor of love for both Bob and Walt Wick. At one time, Bob taught art on the faculty of Kent State University and the family’s roots grow deep in Ohio. For at least the last 30 years, the Wicks have promoted poetry through the center, most recently helping to renovate and move a revered 100-year-old structure on campus so that it could become the new Wick Poetry Center.
The news got me thinking about the relationship between poetry and prose, particularly between the act of writing poetry and that of committing journalism on the masses.
The place where poetry and journalism meet turns out to be a well-worn path of discovery. Harvard English professor Stephen Burt laid out the topic wonderfully in Nieman Reports last year. He notes that many people consider poetry and journalism to be opposites – the first full of feeling the second devoid of it. …
Reporters say what happened, where, when, why; poets say how, and what it was like.
He goes on to point out the difference between the two pursuits. He notes the critical role of the actual language in poetry:
When you’ve read a lot of poems, what in the next poem has to be new, has to be a discovery, for the poem to seem worth your energy and your time? I think the answer has to reside in the language: Something has to be new about how the lines and the phrases in this poem do whatever they do, whether or not what they depict, what they show, is a notion, a scene, or a situation that’s new. But in reported stories the terms are reversed: Something has to be new, to be clearly new, about the events presented, and if the way to say it is new, too, that’s just sauce.
Then Burt makes clear that he thinks otherwise. He references sports reporting, noting that to an untrained eye there isn’t much to separate, say, the 162 games of a major league baseball season. Someone wins, someone loses. Pitchers succeed or they don’t. How do you make your stories unique each time? The answer is language.
Reporters worth reading in 2014 must go beyond delivering the score – whether the subject is a football game or a political contest. Sure, there are new storytelling tools at your disposal, but language remains the root of it. How did it feel on the field of victory? Is there a universal element to that feeling?
Then there is the creative head space necessary for writing of any kind. Our work suffers when we get in so much of a hurry that we can’t form connections that are the raw materials for journalists and poets alike. Clearly, Bob and Walt Wick understood the importance of such connections long, long ago.
Oh. The beautiful header on this piece? It’s Ezra Pound.