Stitching Words

Last night, I read Adrienne Rich's "Defy the Space That Separates," an essay written as the introduction to The Best American Poetry 1996 that she edited. Though written two decades ago, the essay is a living, breathing document as relevant now as it was back then. Rich writes about the poetry she was looking for as she edited the prestigious anthology and then argues for what poetry should do, what it can do, and how language should affect us.

There is one part of the essay that I'm still thinking about today. Rich quotes John Berger:
“Poetry,” John Berger has written, “can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates…by its continual labour of reassembling what has been scattered.”
I think I write about grief because I am trying to stitch together the shards of my life and myself.

In high school, I took a sewing class and loved it. I loved patchwork most of all because I loved stitching disparate pieces of cloth to form a new design. I saw how, with my own hands, I could connect parts to create a whole.

When writing about grief, when constructing a language for it, I think I have to accept that there will be gaps, that the language will never be complete. There will be lacunae and ellipses, gashes in memory, spaces of ineffability. But I will keep stitching my words together because, although I write extensively about silence and the limits of language, I still believe in language.

Near the end of "Defy the Space That Separates," Adrienne Rich gives the best argument I have read for why language matters and why we need poetry:
We need poetry as living language, the core of every language, something that is still spoken, aloud or in the mind, muttered in secret, subversive, reaching around corners, crumpled into a pocket, performed to a community, read aloud to the dying, recited by heart, scratched or sprayed on a wall. That kind of language.