The Encyclopedia of Life

Image courtesy of Rishabh Mishra (flickr.com)

About this time last year I wrote a blog post entitled “Why I Love Poetry” which basically discussed my slow but passionate and growing admiration for this art form.

This year, I wanted to share with you how poetry has defined me as a person.

Shortly after I finished the aforementioned post I decided to start reading poetry more regularly. I did not realize that doing so would open my mind in a tesseract-esque fashion – an overlapping of feelings, thoughts, experiences that somehow all belonged to this one universe. The more I kept reading, the more I noticed my preferences in poetry, which I know may be limiting my experience of the medium, but I am a novice after all.

I always admire shorter poems. Since I am a prose/fiction fanatic, it is nice to read something complex, eye-opening, and short. I will one of these days get all the way through T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” but for now I am content with Carl Sandburg’s poem “Grass,” which you can find a portion of below:

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work -
I am the grass; I cover all.

The idea that something so overlooked and underappreciated as grass could play such an important and vital role in history and civilization blows my mind. Fiction astounds me but it relies on stretching out an idea through a vast amount of pages, which is difficult in its own right. But poetry just gives you everything all at once – you have to find a way to juggle your emotions without collapsing under all the weight. No bibliophile should deny themselves of this.

I also love finding poems in YA novels because they are unexpected and a great method to give the reader an unguarded glimpse into a character – the classic “show not tell” rule. A great example is Blythe Woolston’s “The Freak Observer” where the main character, Loa, finds a poem her father gave to her called “Stars at Tallapoosa” by Wallace Stevens. Here is a portion:

The mind herein attains simplicity,
There is no moon, no single, silvered leaf.
The body is no body to be seen
But is an eye that studies its black lid.


Let these be your delight, secretive hunter,
Wading the sea-lines, moist and ever-mingling,
Mounting the earth-lines, long and lax, lethargic.
These lines are swift and fall without diverging.

The meaning of this poem is vague to Loa but she feels an attachment to it, something that pulls her toward submitting it as part of a class assignment. As readers, we know this poem is vital to how Loa sees herself and how we decide to see her. The fact that five stanzas written almost a hundred years ago have the ability to reflect the state of mind of a fictional character from the 21st century is unbelievably impressive. Poetry transcends time and societies and borders and even ourselves.

So here I am a year later feeling a bit more grounded in my existence because I have found the encyclopedia of life – infinite volumes of knowledge, gathered from an innumerable amount of people from across the globe, sharing their thoughts about possibilities, soda, love, poison trees, and wheelbarrows.

Lourdes Keochgerien, YA Consultant & ReaderDFTBA

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