In 2017, I started a “Why I Write Poetry” series of guest posts. I’ve already received so many, and I hope they keep coming in (details on how to contribute below). Today’s “Why I Write Poetry” post comes from Daniel Ari, who writes, “The words we use have amazing stories. And the letters we write and the sounds we make are such a deep magic that even though both are as common as dirt, I have never been able to get over them.”
Daniel Ari is poet laureate of Richmond, California. He edited and produced The 2017 Richmond Anthology of Poetry, the city's first, representing 62 diverse voices. His book One Way to Ask (Norfolk Press, 2016) combines original poems in a new form called queron with illustrations created and curated in collaboration with 67 artists including Roz Chast, R. Crumb, Henrik Drescher and Wayne White. The book won the Eric Hoffer da Vinci Eye Award for design and was a finalist for the Lascaux Poetry Prize. Daniel supports and fuels his poetic life through his career as a marketing copywriter.
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Why I Write Poetry: Daniel Ari
"In the beginning was the word…"
-New Testament, John 1:1
My parents are well-spoken and articulate, and they instilled in my brothers and me a love of language. At age three, my older brother used to point and say, "Obelisk." (We lived in D.C. at the time, not far from the Washington Monument.) I am credited in family stories for making up words, for adopting a whisk broom as a toy and onomatopoeically calling it my "shush." At around four, I coined the word wipekin, which I thought a better name for a piece of paper or cloth used for wiping—and not for napping.
Growing up, I wrote rhymes for fun. I started writing more earnest poems in high school to win the attention of a girl I had a crush on. Robert Brewer also claims this as his trailhead to a lifetime of writing poems, and I know it isn't out of the ordinary. Positive feedback from teachers and peers created a virtuous cycle of writing, receiving encouragement, and writing more.
But besides the habitual aspect writing now has for me, what remains central to my well of inspiration is the phenomenon of language itself. It still mesmerizes me how humans as a species developed and evolved this system of abstracting reality into sounds and symbols that we can transmit across time and space—let alone from mind to mind.
Take words right here in this short essay, how articulate, onomatopoeically, cloth all say something quite complex to you with amazing brevity and considerable clarity. You can even understand what I meant by wipekin. (I've long since learned that the suffix -kin is a diminutive. Adding it to the word for cloth, nappe, yielded napkin. It's also why men named John are sometimes nicknamed Jack; and Henry, Hank. The nicknames are shortened forms of Johnkin and Henkin.)
The words we use have amazing stories. And the letters we write and the sounds we make are such a deep magic that even though both are as common as dirt, I have never been able to get over them. So on one level, it just grooves me to engage the vast, deep, complex phenomenon of human language in attempts to express the ineffable feelings and perceptions I experience. And on another level, it's just fun for me. It's my form of artful play.
My palette keeps filling with words, and the words keep changing. Though they are abstract and ephemeral, dark squiggles on a light background or combinations of frictions in the mouth and throat, just look at all they can do!
If you’d like to share why you write poetry, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org with a 300-500 word personal essay that shares why you write poetry. It can be serious, happy, sad, silly–whatever poetry means for you. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.